Compassionate Action

I. Introduction

It’s difficult to see God at work sometimes, isn’t it? Unanswered prayers, world hunger, wars. Our own lives, sickness, injuries. Let’s start off today with a list of problems. Things that we believe God should solve, should do differently. Some big “why” questions. I’ll start off with a couple.

What’s up with that earthquake in Haiti? Why is Charlotte’s leg taking so long to heal? Why hasn’t my son turned toward Christ? If we are adopted children, why doesn’t God answer His children right away when we are troubled or in pain?

Just because we do not see God at work, we can know that God is indeed always at work, and He does it consistently and faithfully. And oddly enough, through very flawed people.

We begin a study of Exodus today that is an extension of the book of Genesis. We know that Moses was the author (Exodus 24:4, “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” There are multiple Old Testament and New Testament passages that identify Moses as the God-inspired human writer of this book; Joshua 8:32, 1 Kings 2:3, Daniel 9:11, Mark 7:10, Mark 12:26 and Luke 2:22-23. Most history scholars, like Chris, piece together passages such as 1 Kings 6:1 and believe the book was written after 1446 B.C., about the time I was born.

The word “exodus” means exit or departure, and this book’s purpose is to document God’s deliverance of His people. God made a covenant promise to Abraham, and God always fulfills His promise. God freed the Jews from slavery, led the through the wilderness, and established a holy nation.

How long could we spend in Exodus? I found the long term curriculum for our bible studies; our classes will study every single book in the bible in seven years, then I suppose we’ll repeat. That’s both good and bad; good that we’ll study the whole bible, but bad that we have to fly through the bible. We’ll even get to Leviticus beginning in May, and I’ve been joking lately that I’ll give an entire lesson on the evils of shellfish. We’ll see if that really happens. The book of Exodus covers many familiar stories; Moses’ birth and floating down the river in a basket of reeds, the 7 plagues upon Egypt and the confrontation with Pharaoh, the parting of the red sea, wandering in the desert, bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain.

What else? (golden calf, burning bush, … ). Anybody remember that movie with Charles Heston? 1956, Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner as the bald Pharaoh?

Today, we’re studying Exodus 1-4. Zoom. But our study today is going to focus on God’s compassion and his actions and God works through very flawed people like you and me. Ok, flawed people like me. Ok, nobody’s like me. You know what I mean.

I may be a mess, but so was Moses. If you recall at the end of Genesis, Jacob, after having been thrown down a well, rescued by a caravan, spent time in Pharaoh’s house, then prison, then rose to power under Pharaoh after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, then during the famine brought Jacob’s brothers to live with him in Egypt – remember all that? Am I going to fast? Anyway, that’s how Jacob and his family of 70 came to live in Egypt.

For many years, the Hebrews were treated well and lived in peace among the Egyptians, and their numbers grew. So much so that when a new king came to power in Egypt, he forgot about the historical relationship between Egypt and Jacob and instead feared the numbers of Jews. Out of fear, he enslaved the Hebrews. They still grew in numbers, and that’s when the king gave the order for all newborn Jewish males to be killed to decrease their number. Moses’ mother, to save him, put Moses in a basket and floated him down the river, and one of the Egyptian king’s daughters found Moses and took him in.

So Moses, instead of being killed by Pharaoh ended up being raised by Pharaoh. I like God’s sense of humor. Anyway, Moses grows up into an adult and goes out to watch the Hebrews work at hard labor. The movie showed Moses as a capable leader of the Egyptians construction and compassionate for the Hebrews, but Exodus 2:11 doesn’t really say that. It appears to me Moses is just watching for entertainment. But when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses kills the Egyptians and buried him under some sand.

But word got around the Hebrews that Moses had killed someone, and Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses. Here is a messed up individual; he’s a murderer, no family of his own, and not welcome by either the Hebrews or the Egyptians. And so Moses flees to Midian, probably the other side of the desert near the Arabian peninsula. Banished, outcast, he spends 40 years in exile. Later we find out he also has a speech impediment. How can God use such a flawed man like Moses? And what happened to that covenant promise with Abraham, anyway? Where is God?

I can identify with these questions. There are times in my life I wonder where God is. He is a God of miracles, of compassion, of mercy, is He not? What about those unanswered prayers and sickness and wars and hunger we talked about earlier. Where is God?

II. Exodus 2:23-25, God Takes Notice

Exodus 2:23-25,

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

As long as the Pharaohs remembered how Joseph had saved Egypt from the famine, the Hebrews were treated well. But those days had long passed. The Israelites groaned in their slavery.

God has a plan and His timetable often isn’t clear to us, especially when we are waiting on Him. I note a multitude of lessons and timing underway here, and God is patiently waiting for His plan. I’ve learned that God often waits until we hit rock bottom before answering. Sometimes we may feel we hit rock bottom and then start digging. We are learning what the Israelites are learning; where does your help come from? For a time, their help came from the Egyptians who gave them land. Should the Israelites depend on the Egyptians for help? The Israelites are enslaved; can they provide their own help?

Psalm 121:1-2,

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Ultimately, this is the only place our help can come from. We might pray and say we depend on the Lord, but do we really? When things get tough, when we feel we are hitting bottom, what are we depending on? Our job, our savings, our own strength, our health, our friends, our family, our charisma?

Whatever we’re depending on is what God wants us to stop depending on. Lean on Him. When we are dependent on someone or something else, we are not practicing faith. We’re idol worshipping. My job is my god. My health is my god. My house is my god. In order for us to learn that our help comes from the Lord, sometimes we must first learn where our help does not come from. Everything else can let us down.

While Israel moaned in slavery, Moses was learning humility. Forty years in exile because he took matter into his own hands, killing the Egyptian. When did God tell Moses to kill an Egyptian? Pompous adopted son of a Pharaoh, taking justice into his own hands, but learning humility in exile. Moses wasn’t in charge. God is. Moses was learning that when one is full of pride, God cannot use you. When you have pride, you are saying that you know best, you don’t need to ask God, you can be your own God.

But Proverbs 3:34,

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

But now, forty years later, the Pharaoh that wanted to kill Moses is dead. And Moses is no longer prideful, but humble. And Israel is crying out for help. It’s God’s timing to bring these two together, and God remembers His promise to Abraham.

III. Exodus 3:1-6, God Reveals Himself

And so God reveals Himself to those seeking Him. Exodus 3:1-6,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God first got the attention of Moses, using the miracle of the burning bush. To talk to us, our focus must be on God. He wants us to look toward Him. I think sometimes when we look at the troubles we have in the world, people put the blame on God, but it’s really us who should have had our attention on God all along. This problem began with Adam and Eve looking toward the serpent for advice and continues through this day. We want God to perform His miracles, but we won’t give Him 5 minutes a day to study His Word. And when we don’t know His Word, we don’t know what God’s purpose is. Everything appears as confusing as a burning bush to us.

God’s first step in taking compassionate action for us is to reveal Himself. He does this in so many ways; in Moses case, the burning bush. In my case just this week, He made himself known to me through this lesson. I know this doesn’t appear to be a lesson on marriage, but for me it is. God revealed to me that He is at work through bible study and through the words and actions of people close to me.

How does God reveal Himself to you?

What are we supposed to do when He does reveal Himself?

Today, God primarily reveals Himself through His word. I want to try an experiment. Left side of the class, turn to Exodus 34:6-7. Right side of the class, turn to Micah 7:18-20. While the whole bible reveals God’s character to use, these 4 verses, 2 in Exodus and 2 in Micah, are the Clift Notes shortcut to revealing God’s characters.

What characteristics of God are revealed to us?

Compassionate Merciful Loving Impartial
Patient Good Just Wise
Holy Perfect Faithful Sovereign
Glorious Jealous Immutable Truthful

God uses many ways to get our attention so that He may reveal Himself. Some of them are the very issues that we cry out that we do not see God’s hand at work. Our health, our jobs, wars and hunger and earthquakes and accidents. We end up with a host of questions about God that are not new but go all the way back to Job questioning God.

An atheist looks at these disasters and concludes life is random and meaningless, nature is just bad. Atheist Richard Dawkins says that “Human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce.”

A philosopher looks at calamity and concludes that if God must not be powerful enough to stop evil. In other words, God is not God. Or if God is all powerful, perhaps God isn’t good. The Swiss philosopher Armin Mohler said that “God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.”

Even Christianity struggles with how to explain disasters. The legalist says that all evil is a result of sin. Remember Pat Robertson saying that the people of Haiti deserved the earthquake because of their pact with the devil? And liberal Christians are all over the map, blaming God for evil, blaming other gods for evil, believing that God isn’t in control after all and really needs to come up with a plan B.

But true Christianity understands that God is full of mercy. True Christianity is trusting in the wisdom and sovereignty of God without making God the author of sin.

Psalm 66, selected verses (1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19) –

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for humankind!

He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.

You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.

but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.

God’s listening. God’s in control. And God has a purpose. But first you must recognize who God is and focus your attention on Him.

IV. Exodus 3:7-10, God Takes Action

Once God’s perfect timing is ready and our attention is focused on Him, then God takes action. I believe God works this way so that once we see His compassion and action, we give proper credit to Him. Exodus 3:7-10,

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

I think it’s instructive to note that God’s plan is a complete plan. God says that He will rescue His people. And then what? Turn them loose in the desert? No, God’s plan is more than just ending evil. God plan is providing good. It’s reminiscent of His plan for our own salvation. When God calls us to repent, it doesn’t mean just to turn from evil. It means turn around and head toward God, to do good and to serve and to learn and be sanctified. When God reaches His hand to us and offers us salvation, He’s not just rescuing us from Hell and turning us loose. He’s taking us from Hell to Heaven, our land flowing with milk and honey.

When we are fulfilling His plan for us, when we become His hands and feet of compassion, it’s important to remember that our work for Him must be just as complete. We don’t condemn people, tell them to stop doing evil. We show them a better way, one of love and compassion and in the life of Jesus. Jesus is not just our rescuer. He’s also our deliverer.

God tells Moses, “So now, go.” Why did God wait so long to act?

I don’t think God was waiting. I think Moses and the Hebrews just didn’t notice God was in action the whole time. Moses was impetuous and prideful, and God had spent 40 years preparing Him for this. Moses knew the Hebrews, Moses knew the Egyptians, Moses received an education from Pharaoh’s royal court. Even Moses father-in-law was a priest of Midian, teaching Moses about God. And now Moses was fully prepared to be a servant of God, recognizing God when He calls, focusing on God’s plan, humble enough to be God’s servant in rescuing His people from slavery and delivering them to the promised land.

Moses wasn’t perfect by any stretch. It may have been 40 years, but Moses was still a stutterer and was once a murderer. But Moses was different now. Gone is the Moses that killed the Egyptian. In his place in the Moses of verse 11, “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I?

And that’s the right question to be humble before the Lord. Because it’s not about us. Who are we? We are creations, we are not the creator. God responds, “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.”

What is God teaching us about serving Him? If we are inclined to serve at, say, Star of Hope or Angels of Light or the Church in the Park next month, that’s great service. But if we then puff up our chests with pride about what a good job we’ve done, we’ve missed the point. It’s not about us. It’s about the great ‘I AM.’

V. Exodus 3:19-20, God Works Wonders

It’s God at work in His creation; it’s not about His creation trying to steal the show. To God goes all the glory. And when His time is perfect and His plan is in place and our focus is on Him, God will fulfill His promises. Exodus 3:19-20 –

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

Moses was concerned that he wasn’t fit for this role because of his past and because of his handicap. Would the Israelites believe Moses? Would they trust Moses to lead them? Did Moses have the capability to persuade Pharaoh?

God reassures Moses at each step that God is exactly who He says He is. He is God. And God recognized that this is a difficult task, that a mighty hand will be necessary to free His people. But God has a mighty hand to do just that.

And when we have a task ahead of us that seems too great for us, then we are exactly where God wants us to be. He wants us to recognize that the task is too great for us, but not for Him. God still performs miracles today. He still rescues people from under the earthquake rubble, He still heals diseases, He still provides hope and peace. He doesn’t always perform the miracle we expect on our own timetable, but there is a promise He will keep because we have a covenant promise from Him. We have the promise of everlasting life with Him through His son, Jesus. And because we know God will fulfill that promise, even when we don’t see Him at work on our timetable, we can be sure He’s at work on His timetable. That will give us strength in our weakness, hope in our despair, and abundant life even in the valley of the shadow of death.

God is at work, though we may not see Him. He can use us with whatever flaws we have, because He has prepared us for this day. And he will use others to perform unexpected miracles in our life regardless of their flaws. He is the great ‘I AM.’ To God be the glory.

Trust in the Lord

I. Introduction

Do you ever get discouraged? What situation have you been in that discouraged you? (Job loss, health issues, family matters). I’ve told you that I’ve been saying goodbye to co-workers lately. They stop by my office, shake my hand, say it’s been nice working together, and do I know anybody that’s hiring. As hard as it is to say goodbye, it pales next to being the person that’s leaving the company. I know, I’ve been there.

How do you manage during difficult times? As a church and as a class, we teach reliance on the Lord through good times and bad, but how do you do that when you’re wondering where God is in your life. He made promises to his people, didn’t He? Well, where is He?

We’re going to study Psalm 125 today and see how the Lord provides strength in troubled times. Psalm 125 addresses the discouragement God’s people have when wicked people are in charge over righteous people and it seems like God is not at work.

II. Trust in the Lord

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds his people, both now and forevermore.

The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.

Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.

But those who turn to crooked ways the LORD will banish with the evildoers.

Peace be upon Israel.

Let’s put aside our own discouragements for a while and see who is making this lament. Most commentators believe this Psalm was written in the time of Nehemiah, between 445 and 420 BC. The Babylonians occupied Jerusalem, and the evil rulers allied themselves with influential Jewish leaders. The righteous people, therefore, were rules by both corrupt leaders from both outside and inside their faith.

Psalm 125 helps us to put ourselves in perspective to God’s plan and helps us understand how God deals with both righteous and unrighteous people at the same time.

Verse 1 begins, “Those who trust in the Lord.” The Old Testament describes several ways we can relate to the Lord. We are to fear Him, to acknowledge God has the ability and the justification to punish us for our sins. We are to love Him, to understand His mercy and grace saves us, and we become His children. We are to know Him, to become personally intimate with the Lord and all He will teach us if we seek Him. And we are to trust Him, to understand that whatever our circumstances, He is in control.

Scripture has a lot to say about trusting in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” What does it mean to trust God?

Do we trust the Lord only in good times? If we are struggling with circumstances, is that reason to stop trusting in Him?

Louisa Stead, in the late 1800’s, along with her husband and daughter were enjoying the beach at Long Island, New York, when they heard a young boy calling for help. Louisa’s husband tried to rescue the boy, but the panicked boy dragged Mr. Stead under water. Both drowned. Louisa and her daughter were left without a husband or a father. In her grief, she penned the words,

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise, just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Louisa Stead and her daughter became missionaries to South Africa and died in 1917. Out of a early tragedy in her life, Louisa Stead learned to put all her trust in the Lord, no matter what happens.

It is the Lord’s will that we place our trust in Him. John 14:1-3, Jesus says,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

In the book The Peacemaker, a Christian guide to resolving personal conflict, there is this wonderful instruction regarding trusting in the Lord:

“Trusting God does not mean that we will never have questions, doubts, or fears. We cannot simply turn off the natural thoughts and feelings that arise when we face difficult circumstances. Trusting God means that in spite of our questions, doubts, and fears we draw on his grace and continue to believe that he is loving, that he is in control, and that he is always working for our good. Such trust helps us to continue doing what is good and right, even in difficult times.”

III. The Lord Protects

Psalm 125:1-2 says that God’s people, those that place their trust in Him, are like Mount Zion, and God is like the mountains that surround it. Mount Zion is a relatively small hill in Jerusalem and it is surrounded by much higher mountains. Travelers that approach Jerusalem must pass through mountains, and until they cross the mountains, they cannot even see Mount Zion.

Just like the Lord surrounds us. We are not in a prison; we can easily leave the protection of the Lord. But when we are in His will, we are protected by the same mountains, and the troubles that come into our lives are only those troubles permitted by the Lord.

Why is this important to us? It means that whatever is going on in our lives, God has allowed it, God remains our protector, and even in our current difficulties, God is still protecting us from troubles we are not even aware of. He surrounds us and protects us.

In the time of Nehemiah when this Psalm was written, the Lord permitted Jerusalem to be overrun by the Babylonians. Why? Jerusalem had given in to sinful ways; the Lord desired something better for them. I’m always reminded of the prophet Habakkuk. Read chapter 1 sometime – Habakkuk cries out to the Lord, “why do I have to look at all this injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? The wicked rule the righteous.” And the Lord answers, “I’m going to do something amazing – I’m raising up the wicked Babylonians to crush Jerusalem.” And Habakkuk is like, “Wait… what?”

The Old Testament shows Israel’s relationship to the Lord, and it mirrors our own relationship to God. Israel repeatedly sinned against the Lord, through pride, stubbornness, disobedience, and ungratefulness. Sin must be defeated; defeat leads to repentance. Repentance leads to deliverance. But deliverance makes us lazy and take our God for granted, and we return to sin.

Sin –> Defeat –> Repentance –> Deliverance –> Sin

What the Old Testament makes clear is that the Lord uses evil to crush evil. The Babylonians overran Jerusalem, but God will not allow evil to triumph. Look at verse 3; “The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” The “scepter of the wicked” is the rule of evil over the land of righteous; the Lord is aware that this must be temporary, lest the righteous be either tempted or forced to do evil.

In the Lord’s perfect timing, He will judge perfectly. Verse 4 says that the Lord will do good to the upright in heart, verse 5 says that the Lord will banish the evil. This may happen in our lives; this may happen in the end of time. Either way, the Lord is in control.

IV. Conclusion

So, how do we apply this to our lives? When evil people seem to be in control, should we be discouraged? No, remember that our trials are given to us for a purpose. The Lord allows trials in our lives. Sometimes the trials are small – I have a leaky refrigerator this week. Sometimes they are big, like the loss of a job. And sometimes they seem overwhelming, like the loss of a child or a parent.

God is in control, but He allows us to experience trials because He is far more concerned with our character than he is about our job. The trials, whether we understand them or not, are designed by God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. We have the choice to struggle, or we can learn to trust the One who molds us.

What do we learn from trials?

• Faith. Trials purify and strengthen our faith for His glory. 1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

• Patience. Trials develop our patience. James 1:2-4 –

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

• Trials teach us obedience to God’s Word. Psalm 119:71-72 –

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

• Trials teach us discipline. Hebrews 12:5-6 –

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

• Trials sanctify us. Hebrews 12:10-11 –

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

• Trials teach us important lessons. Deuteronomy 8:2-5 –

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

• Trials teach us humility, especially if we don’t know why we have trials. It makes us realize who we are before God. Romans 11:33-36 –

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

• And it teaches us to trust on God. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 –

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Yes, that’s right. We trust God to protect us, and He allows trials to strengthen that trust.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give thanks to God for trials in my life. Trials are unpleasant, serious, traumatic, life-changing. But we can learn to give thanks to God for the character He is developing in us through the trials He brings. For the Lord is our protection and He wants us to learn to place our trust in Him.

Facing Questions

Fred took us through Acts 15 last week; we’re going to cover from the latter part of Acts 15 through Acts 18 today, Paul’s second missionary journey. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas have spread the gospel of Christ among many churches. Now, they want to revisit those same churches and see how the new churches are doing. Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus; Paul chose Silas and headed up the coast.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
map from http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm

1 Syrian Antioch Acts 15:36-40, Paul and Silas (and Luke)
2,3,4 Syria , Cilicia , Derbe Acts 15:41 , 16:1
5 Lystra Acts 16:1-5, Joined by Timothy
6,7 Phyrgia , Galatia Acts 16:6, Holy Spirit prevents them from preaching in Asia
8 Mysia Acts 16:7, Holy Spirit prevents them from entering Bithynia
9 Troas Acts 16:8-10, Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia
10,11 Island of Samothrace , Neapolis Acts 16:11
12 Philippi Acts 16:12-40, Lydia baptized. Conflict over girl with spirit of clairvoyance, beaten and imprisoned. Singing hymns and midnight . Earthquake opens prison doors; Paul stays and converts jailer. Released because Paul was a Roman citizen, asked to leave Philippi
13,14 Amphipolis, Apollonia Acts 17:1
15 Thessalonica Acts 17:1-9, Convert large numbers, infuriates Jews
16 Berea Acts 17:10-14, Bereans accept gospel, but Jews from Thessalonica followed and caused trouble. Silas and Timothy remain in Berea .
17 Athens Acts 17:15 -34, Bereans accompany Paul to Athens , return with instructions to Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as possible. While Paul waits, he addresses the philosophers of Athens .
18 Corinth Acts 18:1-17, Made tents with Aquila and Priscilla. Paul preached to Jews who abused him, so Paul shook his fists and decides to preach to gentiles. Paul stays at the house of Titius Justus for 18 months. Silas and Timothy catch up to Paul. The Lord encourages Paul to continue to preach. Jews band together to attack Paul, but the governor Gallio refuses to judge.
19 Cenchrea Acts 18:18 , Sails for Syria , accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla. Cuts hair short because of a solemn vow.
20 Ephesus Acts 18:19 -21, 24, Paul leaves Aquila and Priscilla to debate Jews in synagogue. Jews ask Paul to say, and Paul says "if it is God’s will" (eventually returning during 3 rd missionary journey). Priscilla and Aquila train Apollos who goes to Achaia.
21,22 Caesarea , Jerusalem Acts 18:22, Paul pays respects to church at Jerusalem
23 Antioch Acts 18:22 -26, travels regions of Phyrgia and Galatia

Paul and Silas travel through Syria and Cilicia and strengthened the churches, then to Derbe and Lystra. There Paul met Timothy who was held in high regard by the brothers, so Paul takes Timothy, too. They pass along words from the apostles and elders from the Council at Jersalem.

Then to Phyrgia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit prevents them from entering Asia. Then down to Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus prevents them. I thought this odd that the Holy Spirit would stop them, but God had a bigger plan and knew where He wanted them. The missionaries head down to Troas, and Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So they sail from Traos to the island of Samothrace, and then to Neapolis and then to Phillipi.

There is lot of activity in Philippi. First, there is the conversion of Lydia who opens her home to the missionaries. Then there is a slave girl with a spirit of fortune-telling. Paul commands the spirit to come out of her, and the merchants who own her are furious because they can’t make money off of her anymore. They drag Paul and Silas to the marketplace where the magistrates order them stripped and beaten. They’re flogged and thrown into prison. Talk about a bad day. But instead of whining and complaining, the scripture says Paul and Silas up to midnight praying and singing hymns to God. And then an earthquake shakes the jail and all the doors fly open; the jailer wakes up and is about to kill himself because he was responsible for security, but Paul stops him saying, “Stop! We’re still here!” And then the jailer asks to be saved, too. Great example of the joy in Christ in all circumstances and how God can use your joy to reach others.

And in the morning, the magistrates find out they’ve beaten a Roman citizen and become alarmed and escort them very nicely to the edge of town. Paul and Silas and Timothy (and Luke, since he’s the historian documenting all of this) go to Amphipolis, Apollonia, and then Thessalonica.

At Thessalonica, Paul and Silas go to the synagogue as usual and convert large numbers of people, and this infuriates many of the Jews who round up some bad characters from the marketplace, form a mob and start a riot. They try to grab Paul and Silas, but the brothers help them escape that night to Berea.

In Berea, they got a better welcome, and there’s another great lesson here. It says in Acts 17:11, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Paul was a well-known apostle who had seen the risen Christ himself and proclaimed the gospel all over the world. And the Bereans received this message eagerly – and still examined the scriptures every day to see if Paul was telling the truth. Don’t take the word of some televangelist or some preacher. Don’t just read the words of Mac Lucado or Rick Warren of “Purpose Driven Life” and think you can understand God’s direction for you and your life. Don’t take Ed Young’s word. And for sure don’t take my word even though I’m standing right here in front of you. Examine the scriptures for yourself daily to see if what you’re being taught is true. 2 Timothy 4:3 says, ” For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

What that means is that people will preach what we want to hear. If we want a prosperity gospel, we will find somebody to preach a prosperity gospel. If we want to hear the end times are coming, we will find somebody to tell us the exact time and date. If we want somebody to tell us that sexual immorality, adultery, lying cheating and stealing is ok, we can find somebody to teach us that. But that is only the word of men telling us what we want to hear. What does God say? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by examining the scriptures ourselves to see if what we are being told is true.

Paul’s time in Berea was cut short; the angry Jews from Thessalonica followed him and stirred up the crowds in Berea, so Paul departs for Athens and leaves Silas and Timothy behind. In Athens, Paul addresses the philosophers of Athens (we’ll come back to this in a bit) and waits for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. After a while, Paul heads down to Corinth, meets Aquila and Priscilla and preaches to the Jews, but the Jews abuse him and Paul gets discouraged. Silas and Timothy catch up to Paul, and then Paul has a vision from the Lord, and encouragement to keep on preaching.

Then Paul sails for Syria with Aquila and Priscilla, stopping at Cenchrea and cuts his hair short to fulfill a solemn vow. Paul preaches at Ephesus while Aquila and Priscilla train Apollos, then Paul heads to Caesarea and the church at Jerusalem, then back to Antioch where Paul travels the region of Phyrgia and Galatia. Whew. Paul was a busy, busy man.

I want to return to Paul’s discussion with the Athenians in Acts 17. The city of Athens dated back to 3000 B.C., and had once been the home of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, but that was 400 years before Paul. The city’s prominence had faded since then, and it was now a town of about 10,000 people, primarily pagans and intellectuals and philosophers. Athens still remained famous as an intellectual and artistic center.

Starting in verse 16, Paul is walking around Athens. If you and I were walking around Athens, we’d be impressed with the magnificent architecture and the fabulous artwork, but Paul is distressed. The impressive buildings were dedicated to various gods and goddesses. Some historical accounts indicate there were more statues of idols than there were people in Athens. Paul is distressed by the paganism of Athens because it is an offense to the one true God for He had forbidden idolatry. Paul sees highly educated but spiritually lost people, ignorant of the one true God. Paul turns his inner turmoil into positive action. We should ask ourselves if we are good students of Paul. Do the lost people around us spur us into action? Do we shun the unbelievers, or do we seek an opportunity to share the gospel?

In verse 17, we can see Paul’s heart at work –

“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”

Paul is reaching out to three types of people. First, the Jews in the synagogue, who Paul preached to throughout his journeys. He also preached to “those who worshiped God,” gentiles who worshipped God but did not know of the good news of Christ. And then he also preached to anybody else who happened to be there; pagans, philosophers, academics. Paul reasoned with them; this was the beginning of apologetics, which is not apologizing for your faith as I once thought it was. Apologetics is an argument for natural theology based on God’s self-revelation.

Two groups of philosophers began to argue with Paul in verse 18. The Epicurean philosophers followed the teachings of Epicurus, who taught that everything came from eternal, material atoms. They did not believe in life after death; they believed that when you died, humans returned to material atoms. The soul was considered part of the body that also died. The Epicureans also believed that gods existed, but the gods were far removed and unconcerned about humans. Because life was temporal, people should seek to be free from pain and anxiety, and instead seek pleasure through intellectualism. The Epicureans were deists, practical materialists, and they did their grocery shopping at Rice.

The Epicureans, to me, sounded like atheists of today. If there is no god, and no afterlife, then there’s no reason to serve or sacrifice. Get as much as you can out of this life.

The other group, the Stoic philosophers, believed in gods and divine providence, and that people should use one’s ability to reason to lift themselves up and be harmonious with nature. The god principle, or divine spark, was present in all things, and when we die, there is a great disturbance in the force. They were pantheists, and there is god in everything.

Stoics today are like the “all paths lead to heaven” philosophy. We’re all right in our own way. We define our own truth, and your truth may be different than my truth.

And of course the Epicureans and Stoics misunderstand Paul and call him names. They call him a babbler and seem to think Paul was just trying to add Jesus to the other gods they already worshipped. “Babbler” may also be translated “pseudo-intellectual,” but the word here literally is “seed-picker,” an image of a bird hopping around eating whatever seeds fall on the ground. They were accusing Paul of picking up scraps of philosophy and repackaging it as a new but worthless philosophy.

So in verse 19, the philosophers invited Paul to the Areopagus, which was either a philosophical court for an informal public lecture, or it may have been a place dedicated to Mars, the god of war. Either way, to the Epicureans and philosophers, they were expecting just another entertaining idea to debate.

A. Find Common Ground

Paul is the model apologetic; he’s getting ready to share the good news of Christ to an unbelieving and skeptical world. He begins by trying to find common ground. He debates, not berates. Sharing the gospel should be done in love, kindness and compassion. Yelling or belittling makes us poor examples of the love of Christ and renders us ineffective. Verse 22 –

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.”

That may sound derogatory to us. “Ah, I can see you are very religious.” But it’s far more likely that Paul was being complimentary here. He shows respect for the intellectualism of the philosophers and congratulates them for they already know. He acknowledges that these are very smart people.

[Why is it important to find common ground?]
[Why are confrontational methods ineffective?]

Also note what Paul does not do – he doesn’t start by reciting Jewish history. When Paul preached in the synagogues, he preached about fulfilled prophecy to know about the messiah. Jewish history meant nothing to these philosophers, so instead, Paul searches for a frame of reference they can understand.

Verse 23 –

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

Again, this sounds derogatory, accusing these people of not even knowing what they worship, but Paul is still seeking common intellectual ground. The people of Athens had shrines to every god, the shrines that had so distressed Paul. The Athenian philosophers were either polytheistic (worshipping many gods) or pantheistic (believed all nature was god). When disaster strikes, the people of Athens might believe they had been worshipping the wrong god, so they’d worship a different god and build another shrine. After many trials and errors, they’d finally cover all their bases by building an altar to an unknown god, whoever that might be.

Paul points out to these intellectuals that they already inherently recognize that the other gods they have built shrines to are deficient. They know inherently that there is something else out there. And Paul gets ready to show them that the unknown god they worship with stone could indeed become known personally to them.

B. Correct errant views of God

Then Paul tells them who God is and who God is not. Verse 24-25 –

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

[Why is it important to correct perceptions of God?]
[What are some false perceptions of God?]
[Why is Christianity unique?]
[Why is insisting on the uniqueness of Christianity important?]
[Why is this offensive to some people?]

Paul’s witness is effective because he’s well-equipped. Passion alone is not sufficient, we must have knowledge. We must know about the bible, what it means, why it is true, and how to apply it. That doesn’t mean we keep silent until we feel we are ready; how could we ever be completely ready? How in heaven can we possibly know all there is to know about God? We are only called to share what we know. We are called to seek Him and to help others seek Him. But the more we know, the more effective we can be for the Lord by answering questions and arguments more effectively.

The unknown god that the Athenians worshipped was indeed a knowable God. God does not live in shrines built by humans, even spectacular Greek wonders like the Acropolis. God cannot be shrunk into a box. How could a box built by man contain a god? It makes no sense. A god that requires things from mortals or can be built by mortals is not a god at all. God himself is the source of all life and breath and all things. This statement would appeal to the Epicureans who believed in gods that were above all things human. And “all life and breath” would appeal to the Stoics who were trying to align themselves with some cosmic purpose. The idols that the Athenians worshipped were believed to control the sea, or the weather, or war, or agriculture, but the one true God is the Creator of all things.

So Paul begins with common ground and then exposes the flaws in their worship. Their man-made idols are inherently deficient. How could an all-powerful God need anything from humans? Paul’s message tells them –
– who God is
– who God isn’t
– why God is unique.

C. Nurture our need to know God

Then verse 26-27 –

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

Paul then discusses more claims about our common heritage in Adam. The proud Greeks might have been offended; they might have believed they were intellectually or racially superior to the barbarians living around them. Both historically at appointed times and geographically at exact place, God has a plan for us. It’s not the plans or ingenuity of humans that determine the rise and fall of nations, but God’s plan. God does this so that people will try to find purpose in their lives and therefore seek God. The Athenians were using intellectual and logical groping in the dark to find the unknown god they seek.

God is not far removed and distant; the Greeks believed their gods were secluded and distant and unapproachable, but the one true God is knowable and not far from each and every one of us. God is not an idol. God is not one of many gods. God is not just some philosophical idea. God is alive, God is personal, God is truth.

And as his creation, we are born wanting to know God. This, too, would appeal to the Greeks who wanted to know everything. Verse 28 –

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

These words had greater meaning to the Greeks – the phrase “for in him we live and move and have our being” came from the Greek philosopher Epimenides, and “we are his offspring” came from the Greek poet Aratus and Cleanthes. These poets were referring to Zues, but for Paul, the reference was to the one true God.

Paul used many words like “seek,” “find,” “grope,” “not far,” “in him,” “we are his.” These would have been understood that for those seeking the truth, the truth could be found. God wants us to seek him and find Him. Paul corrects the false Greek teaching that God was unknowable, God lived in man-made temples, God was not involved. These are all false. Instead, the nature of God is knowable; Romans 1:20 says,

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

How does God reveal His character to you?

Now Acts 17:29-30 –

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Paul provides some insight into the nature of God. People are not made of gold or silver or stone. Since we are his offspring, neither is God made of gold or silver or stone. In fact, people who worship an idol made by human hands have it exactly backwards. God made people; therefore, people cannot make God. Therefore any understanding of God that we create is false; we must not seek God in what we create, but in what He creates. Anything else is idolatry.

D. Judgment and Resurrection

Paul’s message also contains a warning that God’s desire for people to seek Him is not an idle request. It’s a command. Seek God, repent. Turn from idolatry, turn to God. They had overlooked God in the past, but it was nothing compared to overlooking Christ in the present. Why? Verse 31 –

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.

The Greeks had no real concept of judgment. They lived, they died. Most of them preferred to worship many gods, depending on their needs. And although it appeared their gods became angry from time to time, there was no accountability.

Paul presented a different picture, that our lives have intrinsic worth to our Creator, and we are judged with God’s perfect justice. Daniel 7:13-14 –

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

God’s perfect judgment for eternity is coming. Once we hear the word, we no longer have an excuse for our ignorance. How awful to fail the test of righteousness before the living God! People need to know that they are being judged, and forgiveness is found in Christ and no place else.

This concept of judgment would be offensive to the Greeks, but Paul did not hold back the truth. While Paul might adapt his approach to sharing the gospel, he never varied the message of the gospel. Faith in Jesus alone will save us.

Is this concept of judgment still offensive today? Why?

E. Expect a variety of responses

Verse 32-34 –

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The message of the resurrection of Christ ended Paul’s speech. Some of the intellectuals sneered and ridiculed Paul. Some outright laughed. Some were polite but dismissive, “we want to hear from you again.” But that’s ok. Because a few, a very few, became believers. And that’s ok. It’s our duty as the messenger to present the message. Paul showed us how to do it, and he did it expertly. And yet, an apostle of Christ got a mixed reaction. Sneering, some still searching, some believing. He did this by relating to them, nurturing them, and proclaiming the death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. That’s all we’re asked to do. The fruit is God’s responsibility.

So don’t hesitate to share what you know, and don’t worry that some will not believe you. Don’t expect a unanimous, positive response. Just tell the good news and plant the seed and let God do the rest.

[ In your opinion, what is the most troubling belief you have encountered about Christianity? ]
[ What reason can you give for your personal faith in Jesus? ]

In our culture, many people view Christianity as just another religion. Even some believers have accepted the false belief that all religions lead to the same place. But God wants us to acknowledge the unique gospel of Christ and to understand it more fully so that we can share it more effectively.