The Value of Teaching—Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey

A couple of times each year I preach at my church. This time I look at Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey in Acts, focusing on how teaching and learning enabled the disciples to spread the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

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My overview of Acts is based on The Bible Project’s summary videos that take you through this slide:

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It’s too much to digest all at once so I’ll zoom in and highlight some key points…

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This book is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and probably should be called, The Acts of Jesus & the Spirit—as they appear throughout the narrative.

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In chapter 1, Jesus says to His disciples, “You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And this is basically how the book of Acts unfolds.

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Chapters 2-7 shows this being fulfilled in Jerusalem.

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The disciples receive the Holy Spirit and become the New Temple

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—the place where people could encounter God’s generosity and healing presence.

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Sadly the establishment didn’t like this and so started killing them and driving them out of the city. However, this didn’t stop God’s plans. Indeed it allowed the Gospel to go into Judea & Samaria, and beyond.

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Chapters 8-12 shows how the mostly Jewish, Jerusalem-based, Jesus community became a multi-ethnic, international movement.

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Along the way, we have Jesus appearing on the road to Damascus and miraculously converting Paul from being the greatest opponent of Christianity to its greatest advocate.

Slide12.pngWe then have God giving Peter a vision showing him that no food is unclean, this is paralleled with the Holy Spirit coming to the nations showing that no person is unclean—that even non-Jewish people like you and I, can become Christians.

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And we have God establishing the church in Antioch—the launching point for Paul’s three missionary journeys.

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Paul’s first missionary journey—about 10 years after Jesus’ resurrection—is to Asia Minor (now called Turkey).

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There’s a brief pause, for the groundbreaking Jerusalem Council, that clarified that being part of Jesus’ community isn’t based on ethnicity or obeying the OT Law but simply on trusting and following Jesus.

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Paul then goes on a second missionary journey, this time to Asia Minor and Greece.

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And finally a third missionary journey, again to Asia Minor and Greece. It’s this third journey that I’ll be focusing on today.

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So that’s where the journey fits in the book of Acts. Now I’ll look at when and where the journey took place historically. Paul’s 3rd missionary journey took place over 5 years, between AD 54 and AD 58, which is now about 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection.

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Source: Interactive Map of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

Hopefully you recognise most of the places on this map—around the Mediterranean we have Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East. The orange dots in the middle are the places Paul visited on his third missionary journey. Zooming in…

Map of the Apostle Paul's third missionary journey
Source: The Bible Study Site

Paul started at Antioch (near modern day Aleppo, which we’ve been hearing about in the news). He then travels to Tarsus, Iconium, and Ephesus. He stays there for around three years before a full-on riot occurs and he needs to escape north, to Macedonia. He then travels down through Greece—probably stopping at Athens and visiting early Christian communities we might recognise, such as the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and the Corinthians. Paul then starts to head back, visiting Troas and Miletus (where he catches up with the Ephesian church elders), before he sails across the Mediterranean to Tyre. He finishes up in Jerusalem.

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So that’s when and where the journey took place historically. But you may be asking, as I was when I was preparing this talk, how on earth is this journey relevant to me today?? So I sat down and made a list of themes in the 3 chapters…

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These are important themes and I’d encourage you to read through the chapters and think about them but I’m actually not going to talk about any of them because another theme really stuck out: learning and teaching about Jesus accurately is important. So I’ll look at examples of that and how they responded to opposition it generated, then I’ll look at what was taught about Jesus, and how can we learn about Jesus today.

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So, the theme of learning & teaching about Jesus accurately appears throughout the journey but I’ll just look at 3 examples of good teaching and 3 examples of bad teaching. The first example is of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus.

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There’s quite a few things we can learn here. First, even if we’re talented and educated, we must always be willing to listen and learn more. This allows us to cooperate, which benefits us and those around us. In this passage we see it allowed Priscilla and Aquila to privately and gently teach Apollos one-on-one. However, it also shows that there’s a time and place for Christians to debate publicly. God willing, there will be a great example of that next month when Samuel Green does a public debate with an Islamic scholar.

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The next example of the importance of teaching and learning is Paul in Ephesus.

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The last example of how enthusiastic they were about teaching, is Paul in Troas. (Admittedly not every teacher is like Paul but I think it should cause us to pause before we complain about sermons going for more than 10 minutes). These examples also show how teaching and encouragement are closely tied together. And as I learnt last night watching The Bible Project’s Word Study: Shema – “Listen”, when we truly listen and learn, we will put what we learn into action.

So those were 3 examples of prioritising good teaching but now I’ll look at 3 examples of bad or false teaching and ignorance.

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The first is of a group of Jewish exorcists who obviously didn’t properly comprehend the significance of Jesus but nonetheless were trying to invoke his name for their business. Unfortunately for the group, the demons weren’t fooled and they were humiliated. Not only does it show the danger of ignorance, I think there’s a lesson here about not treating Jesus as a genie to do our bidding. That instead, we should be respecting Him as both a person and our King—that our priority should be doing His will.

Our 2nd example of bad teaching is linked to the first.

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There are some falsehoods, such as sorcery, that shouldn’t be taught.

The last example is where Paul warns the Ephesians about false teachers.

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We need to test teaching, especially when there’s any money or self-promotion involved.

So when we go around teaching people about Jesus, encouraging believers, and generally promoting Jesus, sometimes we will be opposed, particularly if someone feels their power or wealth is being threatened. We see an example of this in Acts 19: 23-41.

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Demetrius the silversmith and his mates were making lots of money making idols but Paul had persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all so they incited a riot and dragged Paul’s travelling companions into the amphitheater.

As an aside, I’ve been reading through the OT and last night I read Habakkuk and noticed this interesting link: idols can’t teach us, whereas God has been teaching humanity from the very beginning, especially through Jesus who was a Rabbi (a Jewish teacher), and the Holy Spirit is also described as a teacher.

Anyway, back to the riot. I came across a fascinating study a few months back:

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Because the Christian movement was non-violent, it was really hard to pin anything on them, and that helped it spread much further than the many futile armed rebellions. Throughout Church history, and continuing today, the non-violent approach has assisted Christian communities to grow despite persecution. So both morally and pragmatically, if someone opposes you, I recommend a non-violent response.

Now, a significant part of the way the early church taught and learnt was through literature. They read the OT scrolls and the letters that the Apostles wrote. They also reproduced and shared them so the message could go viral. Coincidently, The Bible Project podcast discussed the book, Destroyer of the gods.

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Their passion for literature allowed them to witness much further than any individual could physically travel—to the ends of the earth—all the way to us today!

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Eternity 80 – Is God Dead? The Case for Christ

So far the entire Bible has been translated into 648 languages, the NT into another 1432 languages, and portions of it into another 1145 languages—all up, it’s about 5 times more translations than any other book ever. If we keep up the momentum, every language on the planet will have some Scripture by 2033! The other exciting thing is that the advent of the Internet and smartphones means even more people can get access to the Bible in their language.

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Paul’s teaching about Jesus can be summed up as follows:

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I realise we’re all at different ages and stages of life, so what “valuing teaching and learning” looks like will vary. However, most of us have access to either a computer, tablet, or smartphone so we can easily check out:

The Bible Project logo
The Bible Project

They’re a non-profit organisation that produces high quality, short, free animated videos of the books of the Bible as well as the themes within it. Follow them on:

They also produce free reading plans, study notes, and posters.

I’ve watched almost every video they’ve done and listened to their podcasts for hours. It’s been really helpful for understanding the Bible better. I can’t recommend it enough!

Tim & Jon: Is Hell really outside creation & rationally chosen?

I love The Bible Project. Truly, it’s the best online Bible resource I’ve ever come across. I’ve been a monthly supporter since the early days, I’ve watched most of their 134 videos and soon will have listened to all of their podcasts. Jon Collins and Tim Mackie are easy to listen to, full of interesting insights, and express a genuine curiosity and desire for truth. I particularly love the way their work paints a beautiful, grand, biblical metanarrative showing God’s wonderful intentions for humanity in Eden, the amazing lengths He’s gone to throughout history (and especially through Jesus), and anticipating an exciting, joyful, glorious future with God in the New Creation.

However, I find that the clearer the biblical metanarrative is presented, the more jarring Eternal Conscious Torment becomes… So I was intrigued when Jon Collins and Tim Mackie discussed this in their Day Of The Lord Part 6 podcast episode. The context is that they have been discussing and comparing the OT warrior savior images (e.g. Isa 63) and modern movies (e.g. The Magnificent Seven), with the NT warrior savior images (e.g. Rev 19:11) and the Cross. They conclude that:

Tim: [In Revelation, John is] constantly taking aggressive, violent, Old Testament “Day of the Lord” imagery and saying the Cross was the Day of the Lord. It was the fulfillment of those images and it did not involve God killing his enemies—it actually involved the Son of God allowing Himself to be killed by them.

I think it’s inescapable. This is why readings of the book of Revelation that, I don’t know, help people look forward to some future cataclysm of violence, where Jesus comes of the sword cutting people apart—to me it’s not just a misreading of Revelation, to me it’s a betrayal of Jesus. Because what you’re saying is, “Oh, Jesus used the means of the cross but that was just like his way of being nice for a little bit but really he’s…”

Jon: “Ultimately he will use [death and] the threat of death as his true power to bring justice.”

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (24m 8s)

(As an aside, this is similar to what William Cavanaugh said to me in Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?—Cavanaugh Interview)

What they discuss next is what I’ll focus on as it raises many questions.

Tim: Yeah. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a reality to final justice, where people suffer the consequences of their decisions if they don’t yield to Jesus—I’m not saying that. But what I am saying is the New Testament is transforming these violent images of the Day of the Lord in a really important way—that had gone largely unnoticed by the modern Western Church. Because we love Denzel Washington [hero in The Magnificent Seven] strangling the bad guy to death.

Jon: Yeah, it feels good.

Tim: Yeah, it’s satisfying.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (25m 29s)

I believe strongly in the reality of final justice (indeed it’s one of the reasons I started this blog) and that there are unpleasant consequences to giving our heart to anything other than our loving Father. I think seeing evil being stopped is satisfying, and rightly so. However, an issue arises when the method of stopping an evil (e.g. a “bad guy”) is evil (e.g. strangling someone). Our conscience should make us feel conflicted about that “solution”. Thankfully, there is a method of stopping evil that isn’t evil—that method is love—doing good to those who sin against you, melting their hearts, transforming them from foe to friend—rebel to follower of Jesus.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9, BSB

If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head [melting his opposition?]. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21, CSB

Tim continues:

Anyhow, that’s how the Day of the Lord comes to its completion in the last book of the Bible. It’s this paradox. Here he defeats the armies of evil and then (in chapter 20) Babylon, Death, the Beast (the dragon), they’re all cast into the Lake of Fire. They are assigned—they’re quarantined—to a place of eternal self-destruction, and that’s the defeat of evil. And you could say that’s a violent image, but it’s interesting, it’s people being consigned or handed over to what they’ve chosen, something that they’ve chosen, which is destruction.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 4s)

Respectfully, there’s a huge difference between quarantining something and defeating it. Quarantine may be a necessary step to stop the spread of a plague but it’s only when it’s completely eradicated that it is defeated. Leaving evil quarantined is even worse than quarantining a plague and walking away:

  • it’s an affront to God’s holiness.
  • it’s a thwarting of His good purpose for humans, their telos, that He first articulates in Genesis 1-2 and ultimately in Christ.
  • it’s a denial of the praise and honour God rightly deserves.
  • it’s a failure to bring restorative justice, leaving countless broken relationships festering, unhealed forever—victims never receiving apologies, nor closure.

Eternal self-destruction is even worse than suicide, it’s never a rational choice, it’s a sign of a severe, unhealthy delusion about what is good and what is evil. It’s what God has been working to fix since Genesis 3, which they seem to acknowledge in other episodes:

Tim: … the Old Testament becomes a story of the family of Abraham but all within that larger story of what is God going to do to rescue the world from itself…

The Bible as Divine Literary Art (35m 3s)

But back to the episode I’m focusing on:

Jon: Yeah, how did how did Butler talk about it? He talked about it as creating a place for that to exist but not inside of creation.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 50s)

A very confusing suggestion, because far as I know, there’s only one thing outside of creation, and that is God Himself… everything else is part of, within the category of, God’s creation. “Creating a place”, surely makes it creation?

Tim: Yeah, if somebody refuses, like Pharaoh, to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord (using Pharaoh as an icon or Babylon), then God will honor the dignity of that decision and allow people to exist in that place.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m)

Pharaoh’s “refusal” is a contentious issue—I highly recommend reading Talbott’s discussion of Romans 9:17-18, in light of Romans 11:32 (p19 of chapter 5 of his book, which is freely available here). Anyway, even assuming Pharaoh freely rejected God, I don’t think it’s honoring to let someone essentially put themselves into a state of neverending suicide. I don’t think it’s a real, informed, rational decision. So I don’t see it having any “dignity.” Again, it’s a topic that Talbott has comprehensively addressed in his book, The Inescapable Love of God, but if you don’t have time to read or listen (there’s a great audiobook!), then I encourage you to read his Free-will Theodicies of Hell post (which I drew on in Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell?).

Jon: Yeah, “confinement”, I think was the term.

Tim: Confinement, yes. But what God won’t allow is for that evil to pollute or vandalize his creation anymore. And so the end of Revelation is the New Jerusalem and then outside the city are… “So wait I thought they were in a Lake of Fire?” (in chapter 20) But then (in chapter 22) the wicked are just outside the city… So these images are that God will contain those who choose evil. And the point is that he won’t allow them to ruin his world anymore.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m 17s)

I’m really not convinced that evil can be adequately confined in that way because humans (and God) are so deeply interconnected, we’re relational beings. When loved ones suffer, we suffer, God suffers. That suffering is polluting and vandalizing—it’s ruining any chance of harmony—of the promised Shalom. How can someone possibly be happy while their son, their mother, their husband, or their best friend is still destroying themselves? (And for some believers, all their family and loved ones are non-believers) If they are just outside the open gates, they can probably see, hear, and smell(?!) their torment.

At the end of Revelation, the only thirsty audience the Spirit and the bride (Christians) have are the wicked outside the gates. Perhaps, when the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”, everyone who is thirsty actually comes!

Overcome evil with good

The Day of the Lord

My transcript of The Bible Project animation is below:

Jon: “The Day of the Lord.” It is a phrase in the Bible that religious people use, usually when talking about the end of the world.

Tim: Yeah, things like Armageddon or the apocalypse. You might be familiar with this image of Jesus returning on a white horse. He has got sword to bring final judgment.

Jon: Everyone wants to know how will it all go down.

Tim: So a lot of these images come from the last book of the Bible. But to understand them, you have to go back to the first book.

Jon: When the story begins, we watch God create an amazing world. Then He gives humans power to rule over it on his behalf.

Tim: But the humans are tempted by this mysterious, unhuman character, who offers them a promise: you could define good and evil on your own terms and put yourselves in God’s place.

Jon: Which is what they do. And the resulting stories are about the broken relationships and violence that results.

Tim: Yeah, this promise creates huge problems. Now everyone has to protect themselves and fight for survival. They are all using death as this weapon to gain power.

Jon: It all leads to a story about the building of the city of Babylon.

Tim: Or in Hebrew, “Babel”. Everyone comes together to elevate themselves to the place of God. God knows how devastating this could be: a whole culture redefining good and evil, as if they are God.

Jon: So God confuses their language and scatters them.

Tim: Now from here on Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Jon: And the next time we see it is in the story of ancient Egypt.

Tim: Yeah, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, feels threatened by these immigrant Israelites. He starts killing all of the boys and enslaving the rest.

Jon: This is really evil.

Tim: Yeah, Egypt is like this bigger, badder Babylon. They take care of themselves at the expense of others, by redefining evil as good. And so God turns Pharaoh’s evil back on him. His pride drives him forward and he is swallowed up by death.

Jon: Now after this great deliverance, the Israelites sing a song about how God is their warrior who liberated them from evil.

Tim: The Israelites referred to this moment as “The Day”.

Jon: The day they were rescued from a corrupt human system.

Tim: And every year since then, the Israelites have celebrated the day of their liberation with the symbolic meal of a sacrificial lamb. It is called “Passover”.

Jon: Eventually Israel comes into its own land, have their own kings, and they face new enemies.

Tim: So that past Day of the Lord—celebrated every Passover—begins to generate hope that God will bring “The Day” again to save Israel from new threats.

Jon: Now out in the hills was a sheep herder named Amos.

Tim: He was appointed by God as a prophet to announce shocking news to Israel that God was bringing another Day of the Lord against his enemies. This time, the target is Israel.

Jon: Ah, what?

Tim: Sadly, Israel’s leaders had also redefined good and evil for themselves, resulting in corruption and violence.

Jon: So God’s people have become like Babylon? The oppressed become oppressors. Babylon seems like a trap no one can escape.

Tim: So the day of the Lord comes upon Israel. They are conquered, taken captive into exile. From then on, Israel suffered under the rule of continuous oppressive empires.

Jon: This is the story Jesus was born into.

Tim: Yeah, in his day the oppressive empire over Israel is Rome.

Jon: So, is Jesus going to confront Rome, take him out?

Tim: Well, no. Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jon: But he didn’t. And after that he started to confront the effects of evil on others.

Tim: Yeah, He started saying that he was going to Jerusalem—for Passover—for a final showdown to confront the evil of Israel and Rome by dying.

Jon: Dying? I mean, that feels like losing.

Tim: Jesus was going to let evil exhaust all of its power on him, using its only real weapon: death. Jesus knew that God’s love and life were even more powerful, that he could overcome evil by becoming the Passover lamb, giving his life in an act of love. Something changed that day. When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

Jon: Okay, so something changed. But, the power of evil is still alive and well. We keep building new versions of Babylon.

Tim: Right, so the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, points to the future and final Day of the Lord. It is when God’s kingdom comes to confront Babylon the Great, this image of all the corrupt nations of the world.

Jon: Yeah, this is it. Armageddon. Final judgment! How is Jesus going to finish off evil?

Tim: Well, it is not how you would expect. In the Revelation, the victorious Jesus is symbolized by a sacrificial bloody lamb… When Jesus does arrive in the end, riding his white horse to confront evil, he is bloody before the battle even starts.

Jon: Pre-bloodied? That is a strange image.

Tim: Yeah, it is because Jesus is not out for our blood. Rather, he overcame with his blood when he died for his enemies. The sword in his mouth is a symbol of Jesus’s authority to define good and evil, and hold us accountable when he brings final justice once and for all.

Jon: And so, in the meantime, the Day of the Lord is an invitation to resist the culture of Babylon.

Tim: It is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.

[The Day of the Lord] is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.