Minor Prophets: Hosea, Nature of Repentance

At the end of his collection of sermons, Hosea pleaded with the people of God’s beloved Israel,

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
and we will offer
the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

Hosea 14:1-3

They were certainly not fooling Hosea, let alone God, with their lip service, religiosity, and half-hearted attempts without any real commitment. Hosea had been through all that plenty of times with his own wife. No, if they wanted forgiveness, then they were going to have to mean it.

What God really wanted from His people was a heart transformation, and a heart engagement that would radiate outwards from their inner beings. God wanted them to truly repent, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

In scripture, repentance means to “undergo a change of one’s mind” which results in a change of the entire direction of a person’s life.  Biblical repentance is a radical turning away from sin and to Christ, it is a key element of saving faith

According to the Bible, repentance and faith go together. There can be no genuine turning to Christ in faith without an accompanying repudiation of sin.

True repentance involves three important steps:

Conviction: Becoming convinced, through the work of the Holy Spirit, that what you have done – or not done – constitutes sin, it was wrong and you now hate it as God hates it.

The Bible says that sometimes a person will “quench” the Holy Spirit’s work, at this point by hardening their hearts to the Holy Spirit’s convicting. This is means becoming calloused in a particular area of our life, so that we are no longer sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin. 

  • We end up rationalizing it to ourselves (and others) by explaining why the sin was not sin, or why the sin was defensible.
  • We end up minimizing it to ourselves (and others) by claiming the sin is really not as bad as it seems.
  • We end up normalizing it to ourselves (and to others) by pointing out how mainstream such things are nowadays. How can it be a sin if the general community approves? Or, at least, if the general community seems unperturbed?

Believers and nonbelievers alike are equally susceptible to becoming hard-hearted towards conviction.

Contrition: Confessing sin with no attempt to excuse it or justify it, and experiencing sorrow that we have offended God and broken fellowship with Him.

Sometimes the work of the Spirit can be quenched at this point, as well: 

  • Remorse: We get stuck in that awful feeling of knowing that we are sinning, or that we had sinned. We are disgusted and discouraged with ourselves.

But! And this is the key, we make no decision to change or turn back. In fact, the apostle Paul said this kind of remorse actually leads to despair and death, just as this was Judas’ undoing, after he betrayed Jesus.

  • Regret: We are sorry about the consequences of our sin, but there is no decision to change.  This will harden you and me to the process of conviction, as ywe grow accustomed to the consequences, or tell ourselves that “I’m just that way.”

Conversion: Resolving, deeply, to turn away from sin and turn towards Christ, coupled with a willingness to make restitution whenever possible.

The Holy Spirit’s work can even be quenched here,

Our hearts become calloused when we don’t follow through with our good intentions. We get those good feelings just from the good intentions, and maybe some half-hearted attempts at change, without paying any of the cost of real change .     

Repentance is a prerequisite, a necessary condition for salvation. But even after you and I are saved, we continue to sin. The Bible calls us to repent again and again as we are convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit.

Hosea followed his plea with God’s reassurance,

I will heal their disloyalty;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.[b]
His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Hosea 14:4-7

This has always been God’s heart, from the first moment Adam and Eve fell from grace to the last moment a person draws breath.

“I will love them freely,” says the Lord.

Image courtesy PxFuel.com

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 20, Eutychus

Remember, Paul had been delayed in going to Antioch and then to Jerusalem, because he was seeking to evade those who wanted to take his life.

So, along with representatives from the Macedonian, Galatian, and Greek churches, Paul returned to Troas and stayed there for a few weeks. First, he waited to rejoin with Luke and Silas, who had stayed in Corinth to finish celebrating the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread with the brothers and sisters there. Then, the whole entourage, now reunited, stayed another week in Troas to fellowship with the assemblies who had gathered to meet with them.

Several New Testament passages indicate believers had begun, early on, to gather regularly on Sunday, the first day of the week, to commemorate the day Jesus rose form the dead. What this most likely looked like, in real life, was to celebrate the Hebrew Sabbath on Saturday, then gather at the end of the day, after sundown, to worship and celebrate as followers of The Way of Christ.

For many, Sunday was a workday. But, in the way days were counted, Sunday began at sundown on Saturday. Christians assemblies—ekklesia—would gather together at the end of the day with the intention of breaking bread together (which involved taking communion), study the teachings of the apostles together, and worship.

The apostle Paul had early on given guidelines for how this fellowship time together could best be kept,

When you come together, each one has

a hymn,

a lesson,

a revelation,

a tongue,

or an interpretation.

Let all things be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.

1 Corinthians 14:26-31 (NRSV)

On this evening, the assemblies had sung hymns to Jesus, spoken creeds of faith, thanksgiving, and devotion, then settled in for a sermon from Paul. It is important to remember the evening had now been drawn into night, as Paul stood up in the flickering lamp lights to deliver what many believed would be his final words to them.

Within the assemblies, some were of those social and economic strata who had autonomy over their time and place. They were well-cared for and had the stamina to go long into the night with Paul. But others were servants and enslaved people, or hard workers at the very bottom of society. They labored long, hard hours, often did not get enough to eat, let alone time to sleep. For them, this was a very great sacrifice to remain after nightfall.

Imagine just such a one, sitting in the window in the hopes the cool night air would help him stay alert. Imagine the hotness in that room, grown stuffy with the bodies of so many people gathered close together, the very air getting used up. Eutychus most likely knew it would be a long shot for him to push so hard against his physical margins. But he did not want to miss this chance to hear from Paul himself, and to have his soul revived within him through the prophetic word being delivered.

Many others were undoubtedly struggling, yet loathe to call an end to their overlong day. Who knew if they would ever see Paul again? He lived under the constant specter of fierce opposition, death threats, arrest and bodily assault, as well as the dangers of travel.

I find myself in the same dilemma time and again. We have catch phrases for it—FOMO, “Fear Of Missing Out,” and “YOLO,” “You Only Live Once.” We laugh, but both of those sayings have profound truth within them. There is such a thing as opportunity knocking on our door, and we missing out because that opportunity came and went. Some opportunities, as they say, don’t come knocking twice, but we can’t know which ones those are, in the moment.

We really do only live this life, in this body, but once. Whatever eternity holds for us is in the unknown future. What we have today only lasts today. There is such a thing as looking back and realizing what we had, that we no longer have. We redouble our resolve to live as fully in this moment as we possibly can, savoring it, pouring ourselves into it, for once it is gone, it truly is gone.

There is no doubt in my mind these thoughts slipped through the minds of those gathered there in that hot upper room with Paul.

“Oh no!” a high-pitched voice cried out, as a faint thud and wet-sounding crunch came up through the open window. In the back of the room people stirred and quickly rose to their feet, some thrusting themselves half out of the window in a delayed attempt to catch Eutychus’ foot, or robe, or anything, really, to rescue him.

Others turned, several more leapt to their feet, now pushing to the window to see what had happened. Paul stopped mid-speech as more people began to push their way to the stairs, grabbing torches from the walls and small oil lamps from the shoulder-high niches scattered about the room. Men and women clambered down the narrow staircase as fast as they could to the small courtyard below.

Luke the physician, and Paul’s long-time travel companion, had earlier positioned himself near the door, allowing the brothers and sisters who had journeyed—some from very far—to see Paul gather in close to the beloved apostle. Now, he was among the first to arrive by Eutychus’ side.

Luke knelt by the crumpled figure, blood slowly seeping out from under him. Bending so he could rest his head on Eutychus’ chest, hold his hand under Eutychus’ nose, and place his fingers gently on the young man’s neck, Luke closed his eyes to concentrate.

Slowly, he raised his head again to the shocked and silent faces gathering around him. With grave, tear-filled eyes, Luke slowly gave his head a small shake. No.

One by one, voices were raised in inconsolable grief, ululating across the courtyard and into night. Windows began to fill with lights and the shadows of those who now called out, “What’s happened?” Someone—Eutychus’ mother or father? A good friend?—picked the young man up, perhaps to carry him back into the house to begin their mourning.

But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”

Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Acts 20:10-12 (NRSV)

What a vivid portrayal of Jesus’ promise of salvation and eternal life. Now, they would forever link the memory of having broken the bread of sacrifice and drunk the wine of redemption with Paul’s words ringing out over Eutychus “His life is in him!”

[Paul raising Eutychus | Jacques-François Courtin / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 20, Reconciliation

Considering the size of Paul’s entourage and his plan to visit his home church of Antioch before he continued on to Jerusalem makes it clear Paul was now readying to deliver the Greek churches’ love gift to the beleaguered believers in Jerusalem.

Paul’s great desire, one he spoke of often, was to bring reconciliation and unity to the full body of Christ.

For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free,” Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

He told the Colossian believers, “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” Paul exhorted the church in Rome, “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”

And to the Galatian believers, Paul enjoined, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

In his circular letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote,

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.

There is one body

and one Spirit,

just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,

one Lord,

one faith,

one baptism,

one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NRSV)

The whole Bible is the story of God’s relationship to His creation, to people. Humans started out in perfect relationship with God. Then, through sin, we initiated the estrangement that now exists between God and His beloved world, between us and our beautiful earth, between God and people, and between people with each other.

Reconciliation happens when people who are at odds with each other are made one with each other again. As applied to salvation, reconciliation teaches that your sins and mine have separated us from God and from each other, and have placed us under His wrath, that cleansing force designed to utterly rid the universe of all that is corrupt.

Paul’s home church in Antioch was a thriving example of this oneness in reconciliation between cultural and ethnic backgrounds, economic strata, genders, and social standing. The leadership represented among how diverse the various assemblies in Antioch really were: 

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

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 become known as Paul.

Paul’s traveling teams reflected this same diversity, with Greeks, Africans, Jews, the enslaved, those who had gained their freedom, Roman citizens, nobility, young and old, men and women (Prisca, and those he named in his letters).

There is no question all the apostles were of one mind in this, for the very last book written and added to the New Testament portrays the vast family of God having been born into a new ethnic identity in Christ,

John’s Vision of Heaven
Matthias Gerung / Public domain

When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
    saints fromevery tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests servingour God
    and they will reign on earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10 (NRSV)

Paul wrote prophetically to the church in Rome, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The apostle John later received a prophetic vision of what Paul had been describing, and recorded what he had been given by the Spirit of Christ to see, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

God’s intent is to restore the earth and its inhabitants, and to reconcile everything to Himself. In keeping with that great mission, Paul sought to bring shalom—peace, wholeness, communion—to the body of Christ by initiating reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile believers.

The more spiritually mature person usually is the one to initiate reconciliation. We estranged ourselves from God and found no effective way to heal the breach. It took God sending His own Son to bear the penalty for our sins, to remove the cause of estrangement, and thus win us back to Himself.

God initiated.

Now reconciled to God, you and I have been called to be ambassadors of reconciliation to others, and to the earth.

[Pure Diversity | Mirta Toledo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 20, Macedonia Revisited

After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia.

When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months.

He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by

Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea

by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica

by Gaius from Derbe

and by Timothy

as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia.

They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

Acts 20:1-5 (NRSV)

Embedded in these verses is a lot of information found elsewhere in the New Testament, but not here—Luke was actually summarizing Paul’s activities in order to get to the part of the story Luke wanted to tell: the story of Eutychus and the elders in Ephesus.

[Corinth | MM / Public domain]

It is undoubtedly in Corinth where Paul stayed these three months because it was during the winter when ships would not sail, and he used his time wisely, writing the book of Romans, as well as seeing how the churches in Corinth were doing.

Scholars now think Paul visited the Corinthian churches about a half dozen times, at least, in between a series of at least four letters. The first letter was lost in the distant past, the second letter we now call 1st Corinthians, the third letter was also probably lost, and the fourth letter is now referred to as 2nd Corinthians. Many scholars posit that 1st Corinthians is actually at least two letters sewn together: the fourth letter with the missing third letter and possibly yet another letter not numbered.

Paul began that letter saying,

I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this?

… [not at all]: it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. So, I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?

And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you.

For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”

2 Corinthians 1:15-17, 23; 2:1-4 (NRSV)

Nevertheless, Luke recorded, as Paul went through all of Macedonia first, encouraging all the churches he had helped to establish, he finally did wend his way down to Greece in the hopes the believers in Corinth had taken his words to heart, and would now receive him with the warmth of their original affection and respect for him.

As Paul’s three-month stay drew to a close, and he was making plans to take his team through Syria, someone brought him news of a plot against his life. He would have to go in another direction than towards Antioch or Jerusalem, so he opted to travel through Macedonia once again to encourage and strengthen the churches. He and most of their now very large traveling missions team would wait with him in Troas for Luke and Silas to rejoin them. Meanwhile, Luke and Silas stayed on in Corinth for another week to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the festival directly after Passover).

It is possible the Jewish plot against Paul’s life involved the temptation of theft. Paul wanted to bring reconciliation between the Jewish church in Jerusalem and the primarily Gentile churches throughout the ancient world. As part of the Jerusalem council’s commission to Paul, depicted in Acts 15 and Galatians 2, “we [were to] remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do,” Paul immediately set out to collect a love gift from each of the Gentile churches as an offering to the church in Jerusalem.

Paul stayed a considerable time in Macedonia, collecting this love gift while he strengthened the churches. As you look at the names of the men who accompanied him you can see they represented the various Gentile churches to help deliver their offering to Jerusalem.

Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea—Many scholars believe he was Paul’s kinsman, mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

[Catacomb sanctuary in Thessaloniki| Image courtesy Pixabay]

Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica—interestingly, the name Aristarchus was connected with the aristocracy, the ruling class, and it is likely he came from a powerful and wealthy family. Secundus’ name, on the other hand, indicates he was enslaved, the “second” one. Because they were not considered persons, but rather property, enslaved people were called by the number of their order of importance in the household. The highest ranking slave was referred to as “Primus.” The second would typically be called “Secundus,” and so on.

Gaius from Derbe—This was a common 1st century Roman name, and there are several in the New Testament. This Gaius came from the city of Derbe in Galatia, in Asia Minor, so it seems probable that when Paul traveled through Greece, this Gaius came up to join him, as Paul’s objective was to go through his home church, Antioch, on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the love gift he had been collecting for the Jewish believers there.

Salucci, Alessandro; Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas at Lystra; National Trust, Kingston Lacy; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/saint-paul-and-saint-barnabas-at-lystra-100574

Timothy [from Lystra]— Referred to 25 times throughout the book of Acts and Paul’s letters (including two letters Paul wrote to Timothy himself), Timothy was quite possibly Paul’s closest companion and dearest friend, of whom Paul said, heis my beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”

Raised by a Jewish mother and grandmother in the household of his Greek father, Timothy grew up well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and the teachings and traditions of his Jewish heritage. Not long after he joined Paul’s missions team, Paul asked that he be circumcised in order to have a better testimony with Jewish believers, and evangelizing in the synagogues, because he was, in fact, a Jew himself. Paul’s unusual request, considering his strong teaching against circumcision, was actually in keeping with his core principle concerning ministry:

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.

To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.

To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.

I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NRSV)

Throughout his career with Paul, Timothy ministered to the churches in Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Colossae.

Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia—this area referred to what we know today as Turkey. Paul called Tychicusa beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord,” whom he had sent back to the church in Ephesus to bring news of Paul and reassure them all was well. It seems he accompanied Paul often, and towards the end of Paul’s life became one of his key coworkers, instructing and building up both Timothy and Titus in continuing God’s kingdom work, and taking on the oversight of the churches in Crete.

Ephesus | Tom Jutte of Flickr, CC BY-ND-NC 2.0

It seems Trophimus was originally from Ephesus, and was a well-known Greek to those in Jerusalem—several people later saw him with Paul in Jerusalem and assumed Paul had taken Trophimus with him into the part of the temple reserved for Jews alone.

Years after this incident, Trophimus was still traveling with Paul and fell ill while in Miletus, where Paul left him to recover as Paul continued in his evangelism of the surrounding area.

Coins struck in Troas | Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 19, Silversmith Riot

Luke named Sceva as a Jewish chief priest, though there is no record in the Jerusalem temple annals of anyone by that name serving as chief priest. It’s possible he came from a priestly family, the Zadok clan. These were descendants of Aaron through his son Eleazar. Zadok had served as chief priest during the reigns of David and Solomon, and was the first chief priest to serve in Solomon’s temple.

Evidently, because their family was so old and well-connected, Zadok’s descendants would often serve in an unofficial capacity as priests. It is not unlikely that Sceva had served, on the downlow, in at least some high priestly duties.

Other commentators suggest Sceva chose the name for himself, as he and his sons were traveling diabolists, going from place to place to offer their services.

Whatever their background, Sceva and his seven sons were seen as skilled and experienced exorcists. So, to be routed in such a public and humiliating way had a powerful effect on the city. Many had become believers, but had also kept their very valuable scrolls of incantations, their magic talismans and amulets, and their sorcery bowls. Now, however,

Saint Paul and the Burning of Pagan Books at Ephesus
Lucio Massari / Public domain

Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.

In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Acts 19:18-20

Once again, the cycle of persecution, prayer, and power turned its course.

The riot was proof that things were going right! The word of the Lord was spreading widely and growing in power. Christian reform was becoming broad-reaching, having a serious impact on the city. It was inevitable there would be some resentment.

Demetrius probably felt threatened by Paul’s preaching, and the burning of so many valuable occultic items. What if people started boycotting the temple, stopped buying idols and other souvenirs, stopped eating meat sacrificed to idols, stopped visiting the temple brothel? The entire city depended upon the tourist trade and the businesses and industries related to the temple.

Demetrius, along with the other craftsmen, fomented such trouble the whole city was in an uproar, though most people didn’t even know why they were there, rioting.        

Interestingly, the Spirit held Paul back, through his friends, from solving this problem. Instead, God chose to work through the city clerk, who, whether he believed in God or not, was still appointed by God as His civil servant, exercising governmental authority to hold back the Ephesian crowd’s lawlessness.

The city clerk made several smart points about why the citizens shouldn’t feel threatened by Paul.

  • The temple of Artemis, and the unique artifact it contained (an image of Artemis that had fallen from the sky, and which many scholars today think was a meteorite) was one of the ancient wonders of the whole world. Nothing would change that.
  • The crowd had not dragged in Paul, but rather two of his Greek travel companions, who had come to him from Macedonia. These men were innocent of any crime, religious or otherwise.
  • Demetrius and his guild had access to the courts and the proconsuls. They could press formal charges any time, and have their matter settled legally, in court.

And then, the city clerk brought up a point no one had thought of—what it Ephesus were to be charged with rioting?

An immediate and sobering calm would have quickly spread through the angry crowd. Roman legions were stationed throughout the empire for this very reason, to decisively put down riots and rebellions, and ask questions later.

Roman legions showed no mercy and no regard for age, wealth, race, or gender. It mattered not to them. With ruthless efficiency, even one legion (anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 foot soldiers) would have proved frighteningly deadly.

This time, God’s powerful intervention involved the natural processes of human systems—the city officials, due process of Roman law, and the weight of the empire’s armies.

This experience would leave a deep and indelible impression on Paul. Several times so far, in Luke’s account, Paul was protected by his Roman citizenship, and the impartial justice of Roman law. And he would be again, several more times.

Years later, when writing to the church in Rome, Paul told them,

Let every person arrange themselves within the protection of those in authority over them.

For authority does not exist, if not in behalf of God; but, being appointed, they are in behalf of God.

So, those who set themselves against authority are opposing God’s ordinance, therefore the opposers will exact judgment on themselves.

For the rulers are not the cause of dread for good conduct, but for bad conduct. And you do not want to be afraid of the authority, right? So, do good, and you will have approval from them.

For God’s servant means good for you. But, if you would do wrong, then be afraid: For not without reason is the sword worn, for God’s servant means wrath to those who do wrong.

Romans 13:1-4 (my own translation)

Most translations say “be subject to the governing authorities,” or something along those lines. But the actual Greek word Paul used, a form of hupotasso, is not about obedience or subjection. It is about arranging oneself in willing cooperation, and to “post in the shelter of” something or someone.

I’ve just been sitting here, thinking about that.

God’s intervention is sometimes exercised in vivid and even shocking ways, huge displays of power that boggle the mind, visions of Jesus, miraculous healings, hair-raising stories of rescue and deliverance from the very teeth of evil. And sometimes God works quietly through circumstances He sets in motion long, long before the event where everything will need to converge in just the perfect way.

God had planned for that day in Ephesus, long before it ever happened, by raising up the Roman empire, appointing the astute city clerk, seeing to the establishment of Roman law, and even arranging for there to be two proconsuls (Celer and Helius) rather than the usual one.

It makes me wonder about all the times I’ve prayed and asked God for help, what vast, complex array of factors God has been arranging and appointing so that He might tend to my needs. And then there’s the people I love and pray for, and the people you love and pray for … Mind. Blown.

The theater where Demetrius and the silver guild dragged Paul’s two travel companions, Gaius and Aristarchus | Austrian Archaeological Institute / CC0

Minor Prophets: Hosea, True Repentance

The rest of Hosea’s book is a collection of sermons delivered up to the point of Israel’s deportation.

Without, perhaps, realizing he was having a prophetic vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, Hosea urged the people,

“Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Hosea 6:1-3 (NRSV)

It’s possible Hosea never had a chance to organize his writings, and that’s why they don’t seem to follow a particular story line.

However, there are four main themes found in these chapters:

  • God’s indictment of Israel’s willful ignorance and sin
  • God’s impending chastisement of His people
  • God’s yearning and tender love for Israel
  • God’s future restoration of His people, following their repentance 

God’s ultimate purpose, all through Hosea, was to show His desire for Israel, to purify His beloved and unite His people to Himself for all eternity.

Throughout his sermons, Hosea counted off all the ways Israel lacked knowledge of God. “There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land,” one of his first sermons announced. After all he had been through, Hosea knew from his own pain of rejection and loneliness, how deeply this grieved God.

It wasn’t just a rejection of intellectual knowledge, of God’s word and law. Israel had resolutely refused the experiential knowledge of God. Centuries later, the apostle Paul would speak of the very same thing, writing,

For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,

to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.

Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.

They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

Romans 1:21-32 (NRSV)

Later, in this same letter, Paul would explain how “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

In fact, Paul would continue, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Agony akin to labor pains, agony born out of its great suffering, groaning under the burden of humanity’s sin.

It is an eerie echo of the words Hosea would pen nearly six centuries before Paul was even born,

Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.

Hosea 4:2-3 (NRSV)

People knew God perfectly well, but they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him. They traded the glory of God Who holds the whole world in His hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God let them run loose.

And then all hell broke loose, rampant evil. They made life hell on earth.

God condemned ignorance, idolatry, and insincerity.

Ignorance: The people would not repent because they refused to acknowledge they had sinned. Their “ignorance” was actually a willful rejection of God’s will and word.

Idolatry: Moral depravity, rape of the land, corrupt leadership, personal emptiness, national degeneracy, the people wanted happiness, not holiness, a change of circumstances, not a change of character. They shed tears of sorrow over suffering, not tears of repentance over sins.

Even as I write this, the Spirit is prompting me to ask myself: what is wrong in my life right now that I keep asking for God to change the circumstances? Is it possible that God is calling me to change my character instead, in the way I approach my life and review and evaluate my circumstances? 

Do I think that a change of place, or a change of circumstances is what I really need to be happy?  Or can a change of my character enable me to experience contentment in every circumstance?

Insincerity: The fact is, God is holy and will not allow His people to enjoy sin or substitutes for very long. God allowed consequences for Israel’s sin, but like Gomer, Israel only pretended to repent, as Hosea quoted God’s lament over them, “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.”

What they really did was presume on God’s kindness, with a sense of entitlement, they took it for granted that God would come through for them yet again, just like He always had. Hosea, again in God’s voice, wrote, “But they do not consider that I remember all their wickedness. Now their deeds surround them, they are before my face.”

Like I did, when I was reading Hosea’s sermons, you might be furiously leafing through your New Testament, looking for all those glorious promises of forgiveness and grace. You might be sputtering, “But, what about God saying He forgets our sin?

“What about that, huh?

“And what about our sins being cast into the sea? Was that just a lie?

“And when God said He would remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west? What was that? An empty promise?

“Or what?”

Hang onto that thought, it’s an important one (Next Friday: Nature of Repentance)

Pollution / Image courtesy Pexels.com

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 19, The Sons of Sceva

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.

Acts 19:11-12 (NRSV)

So here Paul was, working at his trade of making water-proof tents in the early morning, then teaching in the style of Socrates for four or five hours at the gymnasium every day, and ending his long days by walking through the streets every late afternoon and early evening, evangelizing.

And, to authenticate his message, God did extraordinary miracles through Paul.

Picture Paul never alone, but rather throngs of people teeming around him, trying to get in close enough to hear what he was saying, and trying to get in close enough for him to lay hands on them. Did he, one day, take his handkerchief, raise it up to God, pray over it, then send it through the crowd to the one who had been crying out to him? Or, did someone say, “My little child is so very sick, and we’ve come to you for help. Will you pray over my apron, so we may bring it back and lay it on our child?”

Paul probably did not start the habit of sending out his kerchiefs and clothes, but however it began, soon word got out that even something touched by Paul carried the healing power of God Himself. Yet, the miracles that resulted from this glorified God, not Paul or the clothing. Physical healings were always meant to be a sign pointing towards the real miracle, birth into new and eternal life, the spiritual healing of being restored to God. 

And then we get this weird little story about the seven sons of Sceva.

Evidently, not only had Paul been laying hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit, and to be miraculously healed, but he had also been casting out demons, and other local exorcists had gotten wind of it. Exorcising evil spirits was actually a long-standing practice in Judaism. Even Jesus had explained why He was able to cast out certain demons where Jewish exorcists had been powerless.

On at least two occasions Jesus had sent out His disciples, along with 72 others, to spread the good news of God’s kingdom come, and to validate their message by healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, causing the deaf and dumb to hear and speak, and by casting out demons. Now, Paul was carrying on in Jesus’ command.

The Sons of Sceva wanted in!

Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying,

I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 

Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 

But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 

Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 

Acts 19:13-16 (NRSV)

It seems these spiritists, or exorcisists, had mistakenly thought they were as powerful as Paul appeared to be at working miracles

They thought all they had to do was use the magic incantation, “Jesus Christ” and get the job done, but their profession was not backed up by the reality of Jesus in their lives.

They had the form of godliness without the power

When you and I read passages like this, the Bible leaves us with the impression that Satanic power is real and potent, and dabbling in it could become a serious matter. 

According to the Bible, we are left vulnerable to a real being of evil when we experiment with witchcraft, or other occult practices, or try to face demonic forces without being made firm in Christ.  It is better to have a healthy respect for Satan and his domain.

There are three points to consider:

1) Because of the cross, Satan is a defeated enemy. Affirming the truth of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, hell, and Satan is the first step in standing against this enemy.

2) The sons of Sceva were beaten badly by -pretending- to belong to Jesus and trying to use His name as their own power source. Once you and I have been born again by the Holy Spirit, we really do belong to Jesus, Who has all authority. We don’t have to worry about a power encounter with Satan. Jesus has done it already, and His victory is forever.

3) Still, it is our responsibility as believers to know and live by the truth. It is truth that sets free, and truth that protects against deception.

As random as this story might seem, it had a powerful effect on the residents of Ephesus,

When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck;

and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised

Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 

Luke 19:17-18 (NRSV)

When the Ephesians saw what happened to these men, they were awed by the demonic power, and the holiness of the name of Christ. 

Believers now were willing to confess what they had been hiding before, their stash of valuable sorcery books—worth about 10 million dollars in today’s economy.

They now recognized the evil in their secret astrology habits and dabbling with other kinds of non-Christian spiritualism. They were now ready for anything in their lives that was holding them back or compromising allegiance to God to be totally rejected and destroyed.

I wonder what the response would be today?

Depending on the researcher, only about half of Americans believe in the devil at all, today. And it’s mostly Christians (among that 50%) who believe in the existence of Satan. Only about 25% in the Muslim faith, and 17% in Jewish faith believe that.

And here’s where it gets even more interesting. Evidently, over 60% of Christians believe in evil, but not in the personification of evil.

I wonder what the apostle Paul would have thought about that? Or the seven sons of Sceva, for that matter?

Traditional Christian teaching on Satan begins with the story of his rebellion.  Isaiah 14 depicts an angel named Lucifer accompanied by a large angelic force marching against God, recording the opposer’s intentions, “I will make myself like the Most High.”  

Satan Summons His Legions
Thomas Lawrence / Public domain

He was portrayed as the most powerful, the most beautiful of all the angels, his name meaning “light-bearer,” “shining one,” “Son of the Dawn,” aspiring to be like God—not in terms of God’s love or grace, or in God’s wisdom and mercy, but  rather by possessing all of heaven and all of earth. Lucifer wanted all the glory, acclamation, adoration, vast power and rule that was God’s.

Whenever I think of this story, I think of Lucifer, the perfect creation comparing himself to God’s only-begotten uncreated Son. To Lucifer’s eyes, they must have seemed exactly similar to each other, undifferentiated, equally deserving to be the heir of God.

God cast him out of heaven. Jesus said He saw Satan, which means “adversary,” fall like lightning from heaven. 

Gustave Doré / Public domain

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 

[Jesus] said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 

See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.”

Luke 10:18-19 (NRSV)

Throughout the scriptures, the devil is called the prince of darkness, the father of lies, the accuser, the beguiling serpent, a murderer. The apostle Peter described him as a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is fierce, powerful, evil and all the more dangerous because he is a spiritual being, you and I can’t see him. 

From the beginning Satan has been only for himself, he owns the world and receives worship from it, leading the whole world into sin and corruption, using the world to oppose God. 

Gustave Doré / Public domain

A third of God’s angels, now called demons, fell with him and have made this earth their dark world. The Bible talks about demons with the primary purpose of possessing humans. The apostle Paul pointed out that even though the pagan gods their idols represented didn’t actually exist, demons do exist, and they were behind all the pagan worship practices. Therefore, according to the apostle Paul, people who involved themselves then, and to this day, with false religion are really worshiping demons and are operating under demonic direction. 

Throughout the Bible, Satan and his demons are described as causing physical or mental ailments such as blindness or self-torture. They have supernatural knowledge, superior strength, and an ability to foretell the future.  In the New Testament, they recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God, and were afraid of Jesus because they had to obey His authority

Demons are portrayed as real and powerful beings, not just vague forces of evil.

Although the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit both protects against and prevents demons from possessing a believer, Christians can be harassed, tempted, accused, be oppressed by and fall under the sway of demons.

According to both the Lord Jesus Christ, and the apostles Paul, Peter, and John, spiritual warfare is very real and human beings are both the battle ground and the prize.

Satan is completely opposed to everything of God, and he knows his time is limited.

Lawrence OP flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Casting out Demons

“Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb; but when the devil had gone out the dumb man spoke, and the people were amazed. But some of them said, ‘It is through Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils.’ Others asked him, as a test, for a sign from heaven; but, knowing what they were thinking, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses. So too with Satan: if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? – Since you assert that it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils. Now if it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges then. But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you. So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he is attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil.‘He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.’”

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 19, Ephesus

Imagine Paul, outwardly road weary but inwardly growing warm with spiritual fervor as he neared the thriving metropolis and port city of Ephesus, in the height of its glory.

Temple of Artemis
Cafeennui / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Soaring above all other buildings, dominating the skyline, was the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, erected 800 years before Paul had been born. Its centerpiece was a stone that represented the goddess herself, and worshipers claimed it had fallen from the sky, possibly it was a meteorite. (Here is a 5 minute video on the Temple of Artemis.)

Artemis of Ephesus
Naples National Archaeological Museum / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

Artemis was the patron goddess of Ephesus, thought to have been born there, and her shrine was accepted as an asylum. She was considered a protector of fertility, usually depicted with a vest of gourds (a fertility symbol in the ancient near east), and connected to other Anatolian mother goddesses, such as Cybele, a 5,000 year old cult deity, considered the Great Mother of all the gods.

Ephesus was famous for its Ephesia grammata or ‘Ephesian letters.’ These were occult formulae written on scrolls and talismans copied from the original inscriptions in the Artemis temple. There were many universities in Ephesus, connected with gymnasiums.  They were designed for people of leisure, with spas, all inlaid beautiful marble, benches to eat and drink, places to exercise, swim, then relax in the café with cappuccinos and bisciotti to have intellectual conversation about philosophy, religion, politics.

Now walking past the great temple, Paul would have headed towards the Jewish quarter, hoping to find lodging and a meal with his dear friends Prisca and Aquila. Imagine his great joy in hearing their stories of Apollos, and of the growth, both spiritually and in numbers, of their community in Christ. Soon, Paul fell into a daily rhythm, tent-making from pre-dawn to around 11 a.m., then using his midday siesta to teach and preach.

As was his pattern, Paul began by teaching in the synagogue. Inevitably, a schism grew between those who believed in Jesus, and those who rejected Paul’s message, so that in the course of three months, Paul was once again ejected from his own people.

When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:9-10 (NRSV)

Evidently, Paul used his own money to rent a lecture hall in one of the many gymnasiums in Ephesus, and taught from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

He instructed in the classical style of Socrates, asking questions, then disputing and teaching to the answers.  After this he went door to door, teaching and evangelizing.  For the whole of his time there Paul taught night and day, with tears, because he loved them.  Eventually, all of Asia, Luke recorded, heard the word of God.  Paul was supernaturally empowered to live with such a heavy schedule of manual labor, teaching, evangelizing, and shepherding because this was God’s call for him, and by the power of the Spirit, he was able.

It seems early on in his evangelism efforts, Paul met with a group of believers who were very like Apollos in their understanding of the gospel—evidently, these twelve men, though disciples, were missing the same vital element of faith that Apollos had been missing. When Paul asked them,

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”

Acts 19:2-3 (NRSV)

They were like the pre-resurrection disciples, they believed only in the human Jesus, but had not yet come to understand the full truth about the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. They had received a water baptism that symbolized their desire to wash away sin and be made ready for the Messiah, and they believed that Jesus was the Messiah of the Old Testament, but they had not personally received Him as their Savior and their Lord, and been filled with the Holy Spirit.

They had no idea what was about to happen to them!

Paul laid his hands on those twelve followers of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:6, NRSV)

The significance of this whole concept of the Holy Spirit coming to live in a person, permanently, in the way Jesus was indwelt, is central to Christianity.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 John 7:37-39 (NRSV)

It’s not certain why they spoke in other languages, as well as prophesied. Maybe it was an echo of the great movement of fire and wind that happened in Acts 2. It is very likely there were many in the surrounding crowd who came from other places in the world, for Ephesus was one of the great cosmopolitan cities of its day.

One thing is certain, being filled with the indwelling Holy Spirit is to be filled with the Spirit of Christ Himself, the Spirit of Jesus, and the overwhelming inspiration will be to speak of Him, to declare the word of God.

Ephesus | Tom Jutte of Flickr, CC BY-ND-NC 2.0

Ephesus, Selçuk, Izmir, Turkey – 2467

Ephesus in Turkey was one of the seven churches of Asia cited in the Book of Revelation. The Gospel of John might have been written here. It is also the site of a large gladiator graveyard.Ephesus (Efes) in Turkey is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 18, Apollos

Remember Priscilla and Aquila? 

Paul was at a real low point in his life, out of cash, out of work, out of friends, and leaving Athens behind with only 4 or 5 believers in it. Soon after arriving in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish tent makers who had until recently been living in Italy, and had moved to Corinth when Claudius ordered all Jews to leave Rome. They made room for Paul in their mutual tent-making trade and in their home, offering him friendship, fellowship, and hospitality for the year and a half that Paul remained there.

At some point during his ministry in Corinth (or possibly later, in Ephesus), Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul in a situation Paul would write about later in his letter to the believers in Rome. When Paul was ready to go back into the mission field, Priscilla and Aquila went with him.

At Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila opted to stay, establish their home and host a church, while Paul continued on to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus.

He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.

Acts 18:24-26 (NIV)

Library of Alexandria
Mary Harrsch of flickr

Apollos was a Jew born in Alexandria, a city known for its serious scholarship, and home to one of the great Jewish philosophers of that day, Philo, who had translated much of the Old Testament into Greek.

  • Apollos was a learned man. He had impressive credentials, having what we might call a Ph.D.
  • Apollos had a thorough knowledge of Scriptures. He knew the Old Testament, probably through Philo, maybe even having studied under him, as Paul had studied under Gamaliel.
  • Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord. He knew and was able to teach about Jehovah, the law, and the prophets.
  • Apollos spoke with great fervor. He was noted for his eloquence, energy, and conviction. He was skilled in oratory, he had the gift of holding an audience’s attention in the palm of his hand, but even more so, he spoke from the heart.
  • Apollos taught about Jesus accurately. He understood that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, and he may also have known about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Yet, with all these endorsements, there was something foundational missing in Apollos’ life of faith, and consequently his teaching. He knew only the baptism of John.

John the Baptist was a well-known celebrity before Jesus, the center of a wide-spread revival that Jews in the diaspora would have known and heard about when they came to Jerusalem three times a year for the great feasts.

Free Bible Images, LUMO Project

John’s message was to repent, be baptized, and prepare for the Messiah. Each day of his ministry, John would baptize people in the Jordan, saying he was baptizing them with water, but Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit. It is likely that in visiting Jerusalem, at least during Passover, Apollos would have come in contact with John the Baptist, and heard his teaching on Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Because he knew scripture, and he knew God, he believed John the Baptist and was baptized by him in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside to teach him more fully in what was called The Way of God. Calling Jesus’ teachings and spiritual new birth The Way may have been in response to recent weeks in which the Jews had been trying to defend what -they- avowed were God’s ways. They had brought their indictments to the proconsul, saying Paul was persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to God’s Law.

What was this furor over?

It was about the core teaching of the Hebrew Bible:

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 5:7-10 (NIV)

Can you see where this is going? The capstone is just a chapter away,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV)

This verse is so important it has a name—it’s called the Shema, and to this very day, Jews put this scripture in what’s called a mezuzah, and nail it to their doorposts.

Jews who rejected Paul’s teaching were asking,

  • If God is one God, how could Paul be preaching the worship of Jesus?
  • How could Paul be talking about the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
  • How could Paul be speaking of God in terms of Father AND Son AND Spirit?

No one really understands the full nature, innermost nature, of God. The best we can do is to try to understand what the Bible tells us about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and try to relate the three persons of the one Godhead without making too many mistakes or distortions.

Paul had taught the Athenians that God the Father created the universe, the Father shows His kindness to all people, He sustains all by the power of His word, and has made Himself available to be found by all who seek Him. God the Father is revealed chiefly in the Hebrew Bible, and is said to have planned salvation through redemption.

Paul preached Jesus as Messiah, and called Him Lord. Jesus Christ, God the Son, fulfilled God’s plan of salvation by His sacrificial death and resurrection, and now reigns over His body, the church, as Lord. Who Jesus is, is revealed chiefly in the Gospels.

Then we meet Apollos, he knew only of the baptism of John, and not of the Holy Spirit. It is God the Holy Spirit Who calls men and women to faith in Christ, making them alive with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and makes believers increasingly like Jesus through the work of sanctification. God the Holy Spirit  is revealed chiefly in the Epistles.

Apollos, in verse 24, had a thorough knowledge of the scriptures. Throughout this passage Luke assures us all of this teaching comes from God’s wordverses 9-11 recorded the Lord Jesus speaking Himself to Paul, and then Paul teaching from the word of God for the next year and a half. Then in verse 28, Apollos was well received as he proved from the scriptures that Jesus was Messiah.

It’s not like the apostles and teachers skipped over the difficult bits in the Bible. They knew the Bible does clearly teach there is one God. But God also exists in three persons, as Jesus told His disciples to baptize all believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

AnonMoos / Public domain

In this passage we see the word God, the words Lord and Messiah, and a greater baptism than John’s referred to. These are references to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Although they are distinct, both the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are every bit as much God as God the Father is. All work together with one mind in all things.

Paul was very low by the time he got to Corinth. He was all alone, he was concerned about the converts he had left behind, he was flat broke, and he was fiercely opposed in what he was teaching, this mysterious concept about a triune God, this mysterious concept about salvation by grace. Yet what Paul was proclaiming was literally life-giving.

And this is what Priscilla and Aquilla did for Apollos. They explained about the Holy Spirit. Apollos did not know the whole gospel, because he was not aware the Holy Spirit was come to live in all who had faith in Him.

Apollos had everything you could possibly want to be effective: he had education, talent, skill and experience. But until Apollos had the Holy Spirit, his ministry was not effective.

Upon receiving the Spirit of Jesus, the last verses of Acts 18 reveal a changed man. Instead of a lone ranger, Apollos became a part of the Body of Christ, welcomed, encouraged, and commended by the brothers. He was a great help to the believers, and had a powerful ministry in both Corinth and Achaia.

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.

When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.

For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

Acts 18:27-28

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Apollos didn’t just teach accurately, he proved from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Only the indwelling Holy Spirit can empower your service

It took confidence in God’s word, in its truth and in the power of God Himself in His Word (the Spirit of Christ), to be brave enough to approach a man like Apollos with the gospel. But Priscilla and Aquila weren’t thinking about themselves, they were thinking about Apollos, what he needed, and what God would do through him once he was empowered by the Holy Spirit.

[Veni, Dator Munerum | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Lawrence OP | flickr

“The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1831.

Mosaic detail from one of the side chapels in the Rosary Basilica of Lourdes.]

Minor Prophets: Gomer Redeemed

Gomer’s degradation was the dark background against which the beauty of her rescue was portrayed.

Gomer had refused Hosea’s love, had abandoned even her own children to run after her lovers. But Hosea’s love was stronger than her rejection of him. The more she pushed away, the more he patiently waited for her, taking care of her when he could. For Hosea, there was no thought of abandoning his beloved.

This is the measure of true love: faithfulness.

As Gomer became ever more jaded and debased, her lovers came fewer and farther between. From handsome playboys to degenerate leches, slowly but inexorably, Gomer slid to the bottom of the pile, until she finally ended up in the slave market, no doubt putting herself up for public sale to cover her debts.

Those who were being sold into slavery were typically stripped naked so purchasers could see what they were getting. She had aged, lost her youthful charm and enticement. Her appearance would have reflected dissipated living, possibly beatings, possibly sexually transmitted diseases, possibly more pregnancies. Certainly mistreatment, neglect, and the effects of growing hopelessness and despair.

Depicting God’s long-suffering love, Hosea looked everywhere for his wife, searching tirelessly until he had found her at last, in the slave market. She had become a temple prostitute, what she had thought—in her fantasy—would be a desirable, exotic life, filled with everything she could possibly want and enjoy. What she got instead was to be used up and thrown away. As Paul would write, a thousand years later, the wages of sin are death. For those who belong to sin, all sin will deliver in the end is corruption and death.

The auction started, and Hosea kept bidding, willing to pay whatever it would take to ransom Gomer. Not to own her, but to redeem her, to reinstate her as his treasured wife, so that he could continue to give himself to her as her husband, to love her and cherish her.

Going … going … gone. Gomer was so hard-used, the slaver gladly sold her to Hosea for half the going rate on slaves.

In that day and age, Hosea had all the weight of the law to kill her right then and there, as an enslaved person in his possession, and also as his adulterous wife.

But instead Hosea, out of his great love for her, set her free and offered himself once again as her husband. He restored her to the same privilege of position that she had held when she was the beloved wife of his youth.

Without Hosea, Gomer would have died enslaved.

Redemption was originally a technical term, used in commerce in the ancient near east. It was used specifically in connection with the buying and selling of slaves. A person being sold as a slave could be purchased to own, or could be redeemed for the express purpose of being set free.

The price of redemption was called a ransom.

In the same way, the New Testament writers used the word redemption to illustrate Jesus paying the ransom for you and me in the marketplace of sin in order to set us free from being bound to sin and death, to bring us back to Him, chosen from before time to be His bride.

In order to purchase a slave, something of value had to be exchanged, whether the coin of the realm or some other product that could be used as currency.

The apostle Peter said Jesus paid with something that was even more valuable than silver or gold, which, after all, as precious as it is, is still perishable. But in order for Jesus to pay what would be recognized by God as the coin of the realm, He had to become a human being, He had to have a life that He could live perfectly, without one sin, without one way that sin or death could have a hold on Him. And He had to have a life that He could freely give away for you and me. Jesus redeemed us from our enslavement to sin with His own blood, the blood of a perfect sacrificial lamb.

Without Jesus, you and I would have been condemned to a life of sin ending in death. In the end, Paul would write, none of us can extricate ourselves from our own mess. We’re enslaved. So, Jesus substituted Himself for us, He took the penalty for us. The only ransom that would be accepted, was to give His life in our place, to take all the sin into Himself and to allow the wrath of God to consume our sin in Him.

A subject Paul would write about often, he said, “You were bought with a price…Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Even though Jesus has set us free, you and I owe Him everything.

And Hosea did ask something of Gomer that so far she had proven either unable, or unwilling—or maybe even both—to do.

Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

Hosea 3:3 (NIV)

Some prophets preached God’s message, others wrote it down, but Hosea, now, Hosea lived it out. Because of his marriage, Hosea’s story is able to show you and me, like nothing else could, what God feels, His depth of suffering, His heart response to His people. And today, sometimes the tragedy or trauma God allows in our lives is His desire for us to show something of the love and character of Christ in our situation.

God’s unfailing love overflows with forgiveness

And so must our love be: unfailing, faithful, overflowing with forgiveness.

Hosea and Gomer | Anonymous Unknown author / Public domain

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