I Have Many People in This City
Acts 18:1 – 17
I have many people in this city
The perils of Christian jargon
If you’ve grown up in the church, Gone to youth group, every Friday night of your teenage years, Or even just if you’ve hung around with Christians a bit, I’m sure you will have picked up some Christian jargon.
Christianese, sometimes it’s called,
For example, Christians talk about “the word”, what they mean is the Bible, but I’ve known people who have literally scoured every page of the Bible, to find “the word”, the one word, that they thought was being talked about.
So if you’re new here, or you haven’t been around church all that much, and you don’t understand something we say, it doesn’t mean you’re an idiot, it just means we’ve forgotten to explain ourselves! So please do ask!
Last Sunday I said something to young Sarah Klein, and she replied, in Swahili, with a sly grin on her face! And I was reminded again, what’s it like, to not understand what’s being said!
But I grew up in the church, and I used to hear people talk about missionaries and other Christian workers, as “tent-makers.”
“Tent-maker” is Christian jargon for someone who has what I call a real job, teacher, doctor, gardener, and they do Christian ministry part time.
And I always thought that “tent-maker” was just an expression, perhaps related to the idea that by working to earn a living, these missionaries kind of made a tent of provision over themselves or something!
It was only fairly late in my teenage years, that I realised, that it was called tent-making, because the Apostle Paul literally made tents!
And Acts 18 shows us, that in his sovereignty, God uses tent making, to see the good news of Jesus go forward.
Aquila & Priscilla - Colleagues in God’s sovereignty
Let’s read those opening verses, After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus,, . who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome., Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
Claudius was the Roman Emperor, and around 49 AD, he issued a decree expelling all the Jews from Rome.
The Historian Suetonius, says that the Jews were causing civil strife “at the instigation of Chrestus”, which scholars think is his way of describing the upheaval in the Jewish community, related to the preaching of Christ.
And so Claudius expels all the Jews, including those who were already Christians, from the city.
We don’t know why Aquila moved from Pontus, on the Black Sea, to Rome, maybe he heard that Cirque de Soleil, were in town and needed a new tent!
But Luke uses up valuable space telling us,
He wouldn’t ordinarily be here.
I bought a jacket recently, and on the tag, it had the brand name, and the line, “United by Fate.” I have no idea what “united by fate” has to do with clothing, but it’s the exact opposite, of what Luke wants to highlight here.
Across the known world, united by God.
If you’ve ever travelled overseas, maybe you remember walking off the plane, into an Australian airport, and you hear the Aussie accents, and when the shock of thinking, “Wow! Do I sound like that?!” wears off, those accents are comforting, it starts to feel like you’re home!
Aquila and Priscilla, have a lot in common with Paul,
They were foreigners in Corinth,
Far from home,
Jews by backround,
Tent-makers by trade,
Accused and suffered because of allegations about their faith,
And most likely there were already Christians when Paul met them, having come under the sound of the gospel in Rome.
How kind of God, in his sovereignty, to bring a man and a woman, from the Black Sea, to Corinth, via Rome, as fellow-workers for Paul, who says himself, in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, I came, to Corinth, in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.
Through the resistance of the Jews in Rome, to the preaching off Jesus,
Through the imperial command of a pagan emperor,
God in his sovereignty, worked to bring these 3 together, such that despite his fear and trembling, Paul is able 4 Every Sabbath to reason in the synagogue,, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
When I meet new people to our church, one of my first questions is “How did you find us?, how did you end up here?
You wouldn’t believe the stories of somebody’s mother’s sister’s next-door-neighbour’s workmate told me I should come here.
Each of us is here because God has brought us here!
What kind of encouragement in ministry, might we offer those sitting next to us, around us, to spur them on, when they’re in weakness and fear, and, trembling.
Whose ministry, has God brought you here to support?
For whose encouragement did God bring you in these doors this morning?
We’re not Apostles, sure, but whether we’re going to Corinth or Littlehampton, the question we ought to be asking is not “what can I get out of this, but “Who can I encourage or build up, or help to press on in ministry?”
Paul’s ministry gets another significant boost When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia,, verse 5, that enabled Paul to devote himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
We read in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, that Silas and Timothy brought financial support from Macedonia, and that enabled Paul to stop being a tent-maker, and focus exclusively on teaching and explaining that Jesus was the Christ.
But that ramping up of ministry, also means a ramping up of opposition. That “becoming abusive” there in verse 6, is actually blaspheming, so Paul in effect abandons ministry to the Jews, and turns to the Gentiles. Did you see he shook out his clothes in protest?
That was something Jews sometimes did when they left a Gentile area, shaking out their clothes, it was a way of saying “You’re foreigners to us.”
Paul’s now saying to the Jews, those who historically knew themselves to be God’s people, “Now you’re the foreigners, you are so far away from God and what he’s doing.”
Now lots of churches get nervous when a new church gets planted in their town, How’d you feel if it was next door?
It’s what Paul does, and once again, we see the gospel bearing fruit. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord;, and many others, but we see God’s great care and concern for Paul again,
Not only has he sovereignly ordered the fellowship with Aquila and Priscilla,
Not only has he brought Silas and Timothy and the gift from Philippi,
But now Jesus appears to Paul in a vision, to encourage him in his proclamation of the gospel.
And I take we can assume that Paul needed this encouragement.
It wasn’t just that Jesus woke up and spontaneously thought “Today I’ll encourage Paul.”
The other Paul Paul Harrington, the Senior Pastor of the Trinity Network, he does that, he wants to be spontaneous in how he does things for Sue, his wife, and so he goes through his diary at the beginning of the year, and randomly writes in things like “Be spontaneous, buy Sue flowers”!
But I presume that’s not what we’re supposed to think here.
We’re supposed to realise that Paul needed this spurring on,
Perhaps he was wondering if he was doing the right thing.
He, or more rightly the gospel message has divided the synagogue, he’s had to abandon his ministry to his people, the Jews,, for whom his heart breaks,
And so Jesus speaks to him, to encourage his proclamation of the good news.
Jesus – A gracious encourager
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
“the Lord” in Acts, is almost always a reference to Jesus, see there in verse 8, Crispus and his family believed in the Lord.They already believed in the God of the Old Testament!
Unlike today where it seems you can become a bishop simply by saying you don’t believe in God, you didn’t become a synagogue ruler unless you did!
What’s new here is that this family now believe in Jesus.
Jesus, presented in familiar terms
And what’s even more interesting, is that the language Luke records,
Do not be afraid,
I am with you,
That’s the language used in the Old Testament, when God the Father, the covenant God of Israel, speaks to his people.
There are some references on your outline, so you can see how Jesus is presented in the same terms, and with the same status as God the Father.
Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5, Isaiah 41:10, Jeremiah 1:8.
Now, we’ve seen before, Acts is volume 2 of Luke’s writing, his gospel is volume 1, and in the introduction to Acts, Luke writes that in his first book, he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach, with the implication that this second book is about that Jesus continued to do and to teach.
And here we see Jesus directly at work,
Directly involved in the growth of the church.
And perhaps you noticed, this work of Jesus, is to give 3 commands to Paul, and 3 statements, or promises.
“Do not be afraid;,
keep on speaking,,
do not be silent.
And what confidence can Paul have that to do these things is not
just the shortest route to being stoned by an unruly mob, or executed by the Romans?
Well because of the promises, . 10 For I am with you,,
and no one is going to attack and harm you,,
because I have many people in this city.”
Jesus promises his presence, I am with you, and he promises his protection, no one is going to attack and harm you.
Those are, great promises, but fairly straight forward,
That last statement though, gives us an intriguing glimpse into God’s sovereign plans for salvation.
We’ve already seen in Acts that it’s God who appoints people to eternal life,
It’s God, who opens people’s hearts to respond to the gospel message, as he did with Lydia, chapter 16 verse 14.
God himself is the one who saves people, chapter 2 verse 47.
Therefore, God can say, I have many people in this city
You can continue your ministry in this place, because there are people here, who have yet to come trust in Jesus.
Many of these people presumably hadn’t even yet heard the gospel!
And yet Jesus speaks of them as his people.
He knows they will come to trust in him for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
What a guarantee from Jesus, that Paul’s efforts for the gospel in Corinth will bear fruit!
Jesus already knows how the mission in the city will pan out, and of course Jesus knows, because saving people is God’s work!
Again, the Old Testament parallels are interesting. The word for people, spoken by Jesus and recorded by Luke, is the word that was used in the Old Testament to refer to Israel, God’s covenant people.
Now, through Jesus, the people who are God’s, are not just the Jews, but Gentiles also, and Jesus speaks of them as his people, even though they aren’t yet Christians!
The expression “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” springs to mind, except Jesus can count his chickens before they hatch, because he knows exactly how many are going to hatch, because he’s the one who makes them hatch, if that’s not extending the metaphor too far!
What about when there is no vision?
But what about when there is no vision?
What about us, perhaps when we’re trying to speak about Jesus at work, or with our classmates and our family,
And perhaps we’re getting discouraged,
How ought we press on in gospel ministry without a vision?, because, let’s face it, we’d have to say that receiving a vision from Jesus telling us precisely what to do, is not exactly the usual Christian experience,
In fact, not having the vision from Jesus would be the normal Christian experience, even in the Bible, we have no reason to think that most Christians who lived in these times got visions like this from Jesus.
But perhaps the greatest part of comfort in the vision “For I am with you”, That’s not actually a new promise.
Like any good preacher, Jesus is re-using his best material!
Sure, there are specifics here, particularly related to Corinth,
But Jesus had already told his disciples surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age, a promise that it doesn’t seem is just limited to the 11 disciples who heard it, but all God’s people, including us, who come after them.
And Peter told us a few chapters back that God dwells in all his people by his Holy Spirit.
We may not be spared the persecution and attack and ridicule, that often accompanies the message of Jesus going forward, but we do have Jesus’ promise that he is always with us,
And that when we speak God’s Word, we are acting in accordance with God’s declared purpose, the very thing that he wants, is that people hear the message of Jesus.
Many of us, I know, find talking to our friends about Jesus hard work.
Actually, often it’s not the talking that’s hard, but the response, right?
We’re afraid of the rejection, maybe opposition.
I wonder what would motivate us, encourage us, in our efforts to make Jesus known.
What “success rate”, to use a fairly crude term, I don’t ever want us to think of people who come to faith as just notches in our belt or something, but what success rate, what proportion of people coming to faith, would be an encouragement to us to keep going?
You know, when I see one person, brought by God from death to life, that spurs me on,
When one friend understands the enormity of what God has done for them in Christ, that’s an encouragement, but what proportion would be an encouragement to you?
50% coming to faith?
1 in 10?
1 in 100?
God promises Paul, 100 percent success!
There’s his motivation! 100 percent success!
Not 100% of every conversation,
Not every single person he speaks to, will take hold of the gospel of Jesus! We see right here that that’s not the case,
But every single person whom God calls to salvation will be saved.
Every single one of those whom Jesus calls my people, will respond to the gospel message as they hear it, and turn to him in faith, trusting in Jesus, in his life and death and resurrection, for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
You might know parents who have adopted children from overseas, and how they speak of the heart-wrenching wait, after they’ve been told, this is your child, it’s a boy, or it’s a girl, their name’s such and such, often it’s months and months until they can actually bring that child into their home and their family. But that doesn’t stop them from thinking about that child as their own, does it?
I’ve had parents show me the photo, “this is our daughter., We don’t meet her for another 6 months, but she’s our daughter”
That’s how God thinks of those who he will call to faith through the message he’s entrusted to us.
We don’t know who those ones are, sure!
But we don’t need to know!
The message entrusted to us is powerful and effective, and God will draw all his people to himself, through the preaching, and proclaiming, and conversation, of his Word.
Please let that be an encouragement to you!
Gallio - An unlikely ally
And one of the ways that God ensures his message of hope and life continues to be heard, is through giving Paul an unlikely ally.
While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
We’ve seen the same thing this week, haven’t we?
I know many of you have been praying for our brothers and sisters at Trinity Inner South, who have been prohibited from meeting in a hired venue available to every other community group, because someone who doesn’t like the message of Jesus, appealed to the civic authorities.
But, 14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you., 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he had them ejected from the court.
He is an unlikely ally, isn’t he? Previously it’s been the Roman authorities who, at the urging of the religious leaders, had the Apostles and other Christian leaders flogged, beaten with rods, for talking about Jesus.
But here, Christianity is aquitted of the charge of being contrary to Roman law, and verse 18 tells us Paul was able to stay on in Corinth for some time.
God is able to use all kinds of people, to further his purposes
Legal decisions and pronouncements from the Roman leaders in the various provinces were regularly reported throughout the Empire, so that other officials could follow the precedent.
And Gallio was from a well-known and highly respected family, His brother was an advisor to the Emperor Nero.
So Gallio’s role and status meant that this decision didn’t just have impact for the ministry in Corinth, but a favourable ruling from Gallio, under God, ushers in about a decade and a half of relative freedom from state-sanctioned persecution across the empire.
But it’s not really unusual, that someone like this could be used by God to achieve his purposes.
In the Old Testament, King Cyrus of Persia, who is the foreign overlord of God’s people, he’s called the Lord’s anointed, it’s the word for Messiah, because God chose him to be the one who would set Israel free from exile.
A pagan king, chosen by God, to fulfil his plans.
In the first Iraq war, a group of Christians in the US, were sending Arabic translations of the Bible to American servicemen, along with a little note saying, “perhaps you’d like to find an Arabic-speaking friend over there to read this with you.
After a while, the person coordinating this little mission project got a phone call from a very senior member of the US Army in Saudi Arabia where these Bibles were going, and this Army Colonel said, “On the direct instructions of General Norman Schwarzkopf, who was the commander of the coalition forces, On his orders, I’ve confiscated the Arabic Bibles you sent, and I was instructed to return them to you.”
And on the other end of the phone this guy’s heart sank.
But the Colonel continued “It seems though, that we’ve lost them all! And we think they’ve ended up in the hands of Arabic speaking people who want to learn about Jesus!, and if you have any more you could send us, we could probably lose all of them too!”
We don’t need to look so far to see the same thing, though, do we?
Last week we saw a local elected official step in, to allow the Christians at Trinity Inner South, to meet together with the same rights as everybody else.
A warning against complacency
But knowing what we do of the life of the church in Corinth, there’s a warning here for us about the complacency that can creep into the church when life is comfortable.
Yes, it was in God’s kindness that Gallio wanted nothing to do with the complaint against Paul,
Unlike in so many other cities where Paul had established churches, the Christians in Corinth were free to meet, much as we do, without fear of official persecution.
Perhaps, the freedom from state-sanctioned persecution that they enjoyed, made it all the more easy for the Christians in Corinth to become complacent,
Unguarded against the factionalism, the sexual immorality that all too soon took a foothold, and which we read in Paul’s letters to these men and women, threatened to tear the church apart.
The French tight-rope walker Philippe Petit stunned the world in 1974 walking on a cable between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. 8 times he crossed 400 metres or so above the ground.
Later in his life, while practicing simple tricks for a circus act, Petit fell from a wire that was only 14 metres above the ground. And apparently, as he lay on the floor having broken his ribs, he cried, “I can’t have fallen! I never fall!”
Comfort and complacency are dangerous!
It is, I think, a timely warning for us.
We who enjoy even greater benevolence and provision from the governing authorities than we see in Corinth. We meet in facilities that are owned by the government.
We don’t fear that meeting together might mean that some of us get arrested and put in prison
We don’t find ourselves breaking the law, just by speaking the name of Jesus,
Now, I don’t want to minimise the struggles that different ones of us, or different ministry areas in our church have faced,
But on the whole, we’re comfortable.
We’re not worried about those big things, so it’s all too easy to spend our time getting worried about little things!
The music was too loud,
The sermon was boring,
The preacher’s shirt was distracting!
I know Christians in other countries who take the roll in church each Sunday, to see who’s not there, because they know that if someone’s not there, it’s because they’ve been arrested and thrown in prison for their faith.
If you think for a moment, about the issues that Christians in Australia all too easily divide over,
If you knew, that next Sunday, there’s a reasonable chance that either you, or the person sitting you next to you, isn’t going to be in church, but is being beaten and tortured by the police, that would change your perspective on those secondary matters, wouldn’t it?!
Of course, all of this is not to say there wasn’t any violence done under the rule of Gallio. See verse 17, they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.
When I was at uni I used to walk past the Supreme Court a bit, and there was always a media contingent waiting outside.
I always wanted to cover my face and run past like you see the bad guys do on the news, just to see if I could get on TV, but I never did!
But this is like that!
When Luke says they brought Paul into court, the court is not a nice timber panelled room like you see on Law and Order, or Judge Judy, whichever of those if your thing! It’s a raised platform, which in the marketplace, and that’s where the proconsul held his court.
This beating is public, it’s right in front of the Gallio and everyone who was doing their shopping that morning.
A crowd grabs Sosthenes, and beats him to a pulp.
We don’t really know who the “they all” are in verse 17.
Is this rabble made up of Jews who are disappointed that their accusation against Paul didn’t stick, and so they attack their leader?
A bit like a poorly performing football team, what’s the first thing they do? They sack their coach!
Or perhaps the crowd are Greeks, who think that the decision against the Jews is a good time to sink the boot in, assuming they’ll get away with it
Intriguingly, Paul mentions a Sosthenes, in the opening line of 1 Corinthians. His associate, his scribe, who wrote the letter as Paul spoke it.
We’re not told if it’s the same one, but it may well be.
Maybe the appeal of the gospel message is already starting to take hold of him, and the other religious people don’t like.
In any case, Gallio is indifferent, heartless!
And yet he is a tool in God’s hand, used for the furthering of his kingdom.
Friends, how might we pray, for God to use our politicians,
Business men and women,
People in strategic positions in schools, workplaces, organisations, to help advance the life-changing and eternity-shaping good news of Jesus?
Or think about it from a different angle?
What are the freedoms of our citizenship, that in God’s kindness and sovereignty, allow us to bring the good news of Jesus to others?
God used Roman law, and government officials, to speed on the message of Jesus.
I wonder how he might provide similar opportunities for us, if we were to ask.
Matthew Parris is a leading journalist and former politician in the UK., He’s openly homosexual, an avowed atheist, and yet, after returning from a visit to Malawi, where he had lived as a child, he wrote an article titled “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”, and he doesn’t mean “some God, whatever God you like”, he means Jesus.
He writes, “Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation, may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion, of Nike,, the witch doctor,, the mobile phone, and the machete”
Is he, the Gallio for today?
Or one of?
We don’t know.
Time will tell if that argument has any influence.
But if not Matthew Parris, there’ll be another one.
God is sovereign, and God will save his people.