It’s December, time for the tree to go up, get the sprouts on the boil, and for all to get ready for the big day. Christmas, it’s all about the children, isn’t it?
But how Christian is Christmas? Is this really what Jesus had in mind for his followers and what has it all to do with the birth of the Saviour? The actual timing of Christmas has more to do with the birth of the new sun after the winter solstice. As the arc of the sun in the sky began to get longer, way before Christ was born there were religious festivals at this time. This change of state in the bleak mid-winter of the year was experienced as “the rebirth of the sun and commemorated as the birthday of the sun god, the luminous divine child” (The Myth of the Goddess, Baring & Cashford). This mid-winter festival was an important event for all sun-worshipping cultures with considerable mythology surrounding it and much celebration as well.
One thing is sure, Jesus was not born on December 25. On the evening of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were washing their socks by night, watching their flocks by night. Well, shepherds, would not have been in the fields as late as December. It would have been far too cold near Bethlehem.
If Jesus was not born on December 25, when was He born? Although it may prove impossible to determine the date, the commentaries are right, He was born in the autumn probably late September or early October before the shepherds brought the flocks down for the winter. However, He might have been born in the spring, during the lambing season, either way, it was not in the bleak mid-winter when frosty winds made moan! There is no date given in the Bible nor is there any commandment to observe Jesus’ birth.
The church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, there is valid speculation that choosing this date had the motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations associated with the sun god.
There is a Catholic tradition that martyred saints die on the same date as their conception, so if Christ died in April, we would have been conceived in April and therefore born in late December. Or maybe not.
But let’s not let too many facts get in the way of us celebrating the birth of the saviour, the important thing is, He was born, without Him there would be no salvation. By the way, Christmas is not all about the children, it’s about the one child.
My next book is to be called ‘After Acts’, a semi-ficticious account of Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey.
The book will be written under my real name of Richard J Kirk. (Joseph R Mason is my pen name and birth name – see https://josephmasonauthor.com for explaination.
This is Chapter One or the Introduction, and this is the serious bit before the story begins…
(This is an update of a previous article)
This is the serious bit before the story begins…
Before we start on Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey, let us first look at the book it is a continuation of, The Acts of the Apostles.
The Acts of the Apostles is a genre of Early Christian literature, recounting the lives and works of the apostles of Jesus. The Acts are important for many reasons, one of them being the concept of apostolic succession.
The canonical Acts of the Apostles
Only one work in this genre is included in the New Testament canon, entitled the Acts of the Apostles, sometimes called the Book of Acts or simply Acts, and primarily concerns the activities of the Apostles Peter, John, and Paul. Paul converts to Christianity in chapter 9 and becomes the main character. It is presumably the second part of a two-part work, the Canonical Gospel of Luke being the first part, with both works being addressed to Theophilus, and sharing a similar style. Almost all scholars believe that they were written by the same person.
The book narrates how the resurrected Jesus makes the apostles his witnesses, and instructs them to convert all peoples to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Through the Holy Spirit, God then empowers the apostles in their missionary work, with the ability to perform miracles such as healing the sick, casting out demons and raising the dead, while spreading Jesus’ gospel. Problems such as anti-Christian persecutions, and conflicts about whether converts should first become Jews before they can become Christians, are overcome.
The Book of Acts was probably written around the year 80 or 85 CE. It is not so much concerned with historical accuracy as it is with furthering a particular theology from a certain religious point of view.
The early church did not include any other books within the genre in the Christian Bible. These documents are considered apocryphal by all churches. They tend to be later, legendary accounts about the twelve apostles written in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. The books normally do not claim to be written by apostles but are anonymous, and thus they are not considered pseudepigrapha and forgeries. Unlike the canonical Book of Acts, they focus on the exploits of individual apostles.
As a genre, the Apocryphal Acts tend to feature travels, dangers, controversies, deliverances, thwarted sexual trysts, and miraculous demonstrations of the power of God within an episodic narrative. They bear a resemblance to the five surviving ancient Greek novels and the two surviving ancient Roman novels in Latin (The Golden Ass and the Satyricon). The overarching theme in these popular pagan romances is that heterosexual marital love is the basis for social peace and prosperity. The general plot of these novels is that a man and a woman from the upper classes fall in love, but become tragically separated before they can consummate their sexual love until the very end of the story, overcoming various hardships before being reunited. The Christian Apocryphal Acts turn these characteristics on their heads, however: the wealth and beauty of this world are to be despised, and any sexual activity is condemned as impure, in favour of love for God and preparation for the coming heavenly afterlife.
Five of the non-canonical acts have survived almost completely, namely the Acts of John, Peter, Paul, Andrew, and Thomas. A large number of other narratives only exist in fragmentary form.
List of Acts
The following list is comprehensive, but not exhaustive.
Acts of Andrew, c. 180 CE in Greek, reconstructed from Greek, Latin, Coptic and Armenian fragments.
In the New Testament, the book of Acts and some of the epistles inform of the Apostle Paul’s story and his three exceptional missionary journeys. But the story ends suddenly and is incomplete. There is some proof that Paul had a fourth missionary journey and most probably did reach Spain and even Portugal. Some texts even say he reached Britain, (see The Lost Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles also known as the Sonnini Manuscript), here it suggests that Paul preached on Lud Mount, now known as Ludgate Hill; however, there is little proof of this idea. These episodes are not properly documented, however, there is much evidence of this in the New Testament and in different historic writings (Eusebius of Caesarea, who mentions Paul forty-eight times in his writings, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, one of the apocryphal writings, Clement (AD 95), Peter (AD 60), Ignatius, Polycarp, Pamphilius, and many other late first, second, and third century writers); plus of course the writings of the Septuagint, (the seventy-book model of the Bible).
According to the book of Acts, Paul embarked on three missionary journeys, which are well documented in the New Testament. Following these journeys, he was under house arrest in Caesarea for a couple of years. First Paul was held by Felix, who probably kept him captive in the hope that he might receive money from him. (Acts 24:26 NIV …at the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him). When Paul introduced his case to Agrippa II two years later, Agrippa declared, “This man could have been set free if had he not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32).
From there Paul was to be transported under the care of Julius, a Roman Centurion, using several ships to get to Rome. He was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. Eventually, he made it to Rome where he spent another couple of years under house arrest in Rome awaiting an audience or trial with Emperor Nero. After Paul arrived in Rome, he observed that Jewish leaders there had not been made aware of his case (Acts 28:17-21). This suggests that no one had yet come from Jerusalem to present the accusations towards Paul. If the case was therefore no longer to be prosecuted, then possibilities are it would have been dismissed. That is the place the book of Acts ends; however, it is not the end of Paul or the end of the story. It is not revealed why Paul’s friend and fellow apostle Luke, the most credible source of the book of Acts, selected to stop where he did and failed to reveal the outcomes of the trial. Although Luke was a fellow prisoner with Paul, we know his writings did not end abruptly because he died in jail. According to ancient sources, Luke was martyred at age 84 in the Greek city of Thebes, so obviously lived on for many years after leaving Paul in Rome. We additionally do not possess a sequel to the book. However, there is robustly biblical and historic proof that Paul was acquitted at his trial and had at least one other significant missionary journey, if not two, before his final martyrdom in Rome.
There are many biblical and historic indicators floating around that allow us to reconstruct some of what came about afterwards with a little contrived storyline. The reconstruction of his route told here may be fictional, however, it is based on plenty of facts, a lot of historical writings and references, plus a sprinkling of half-truths. Whereas all the biblical and historic activities listed are in all probability true, we have little real knowledge of the timeline or order in which these events take place. We will, however, arrange the timings in what is viewed as the most reasonable order and the most probable timeline.
Something we are certain about is the beginning, which takes place after the conclusion of the book of Acts. Firstly, Paul was presented to Emperor Nero at some time during his period of arrest in Rome. God had after all promised Paul in a vision following his shipwreck off the coast of Malta that he would show up before Caesar. (Acts 27 verses 23 and 24 – Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar, and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”)
Following his hearing, at which, no doubt Paul preached the Gospel to Nero and anyone else who was there, Paul was set free.
Several strains of reasoning help the conclusion that Paul was acquitted at his trial in Rome. First, those who accused Paul, as described in Acts, lacked evidence and meaning, the little evidence they did have was often contradictory and confused. When Paul was tried earlier before the procurator Felix in Caesarea, three accusations had been made (Acts 24:5-6):
Paul had been the reason for riots all over the (known) world.
Paul was the leader of an heretic Jewish sect.
Paul had brought Gentiles and Greeks into the Temple of God in Jerusalem contrary to Jewish law, therefore, in their eyes, desecrating the Temple.
(Acts 21:28 “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”)
Roman courts tended to exhibit little interest in religious matters as in the second charge, believing that the Jews could and should sort out their religious affairs and that such a charge is outside of the jurisdiction or interest of Rome.
In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio had already found that similar accusations towards Paul were unfounded and unproven (see Acts 18:12-16).
The last charge against Paul had been made by some Jews from Asia Minor, but they did not show up to testify before Pro-Consul Felix (Acts 24:19). Additionally, there had been no witnesses present at his initial trial in Caesarea to testify against him.
You see Paul looking forward to his release in Philemon 22, and in Philippians 1:19–26. The early church historian Eusebius, writing about AD 325 supported this with his declaration that Paul’s martyrdom was not at the time described in the book of Acts. (Eusebius of Caesarea circa. 260(ish) – 30 May 339), also known as Eusebius Pamphili. He was at once a Greek historian of Christianity and a Christian essayist. In about AD 314 he became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina. Together with Pamphilus, he was once a pupil of the biblical canon and is considered one of the most influential Christian writers in the course of late antiquity).
Paul had decided to go to Philemon (Philemon 22). But in view that Colossae is to the east of Rome and Spain to the west, and given that we have evidence to believe that Paul travelled to Spain after Rome, it might be that Paul determined to forgo the trip Philemon until after he had visited Spain.
Maybe Paul did travel to Spain. Such a missionary journey was in his mind when he wrote his letter to the Romans five or six years earlier (Romans 15:22–29). Clement, writing around 95 AD in Rome, tells us that after Paul “had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West” (see 1 Clement 5.5–7). The “farthest limits of the West” in a Roman’s mind might be Britain or Gaul (France), but usually, a first-century Roman would be thinking of Spain. Would a renowned church historian in Rome, writing just 30 years after Paul’s death in Rome have made a historic mistake about Paul’s trip to Spain? It is more probable from the standpoint of historiography to expect that Paul did journey to Spain and minister there. (See also the Acts of Peter and the Muratorian Fragment, both written late in the second century, where they tell of Paul’s journey to Spain). We cannot of course be certain, but it was in Paul’s plan to visit there (Romans 15:23-29 NIV. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you,  I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey thereafter I have enjoyed your company for a while.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there.  For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.  I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.) In the first century, Spain is only four, but possibly as many as ten days by ship from Rome, Paul most likely stayed some time in Spain preaching and teaching.
Perhaps on his return from Spain, Paul sailed to Crete the place he engaged in ministry alongside Titus. When Paul departed Crete, he left Titus to appoint elders in the cities that held believing communities, some of which have been probably planted via Paul and Titus (Titus 1:5). The order of activities after this becomes increasingly difficult. It is thought by many that after Crete, Paul travelled to Ephesus the place Timothy was once serving. During Paul’s time in Ephesus, the following incidents occurred:
1) Paul encountered opposition from Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14)
2) He confronted a large-scale falling out with believers in Asia, which includes Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15) and ‘The Acts of Paul and Thecla’.
3) he obtained assistance and encouragement from Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:18),
4) he entreated Timothy to stay in Ephesus to right false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3).
It may additionally be that Paul also had the intention to go to Philemon in Colossae (Philemon 22). At this point, there is no way to know. After this, we assume the whole thing happened in pretty fast succession except for any lengthy stays in any of the places he visited. Paul left Ephesus with the intention of journeying to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3). But before Paul travelled to Macedonia, he wanted to go to Miletus for some reason, so he (walked? took a ship?) south with Trophimus to the close by port of Miletus. His companion and fellow traveller, Trophimus, unfortunately, grew to become too ill to journey anymore (2 Timothy 4:20 NIV Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus)
Paul for that reason left Trophimus back in Miletus when he booked passage (I’m assuming Paul travelled by sea) on a ship heading north towards Macedonia. The ship would have stopped at Troas, so Paul left some belongings there with Carpus, such as his cloak and books (2 Timothy 4:13 NIVWhen you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.).
Since Paul left his cloak, we may also infer that it used to be summer or nearing summer. We know nearly nothing about his time in Macedonia, but, as with his visit there during his third missionary journey, he probably worked his way via Macedonia, ministering and journeying with believers in locations such as Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, and finally made his way down to Corinth.
Somewhere, alongside the experiences he had both in Macedonia and Achaia, he began planning for the winter months in the warmer area of Nicopolis on the west coast of Achaia (Titus 3:12 NIV As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there). Paul wrote a letter to Titus, and possibly his first letter to Timothy whilst making plans to winter in Nicopolis. Corinth would have been the perfect region to ship a letter to Crete (Titus) and a letter to Ephesus (1 Timothy), so I bet these letters have been despatched from Corinth. Paul despatched Artemas or Tychicus to relieve Titus on Crete, it has been suggested that Paul was once hoping for Titus to be with him throughout the colder months in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).
Paul left Erastus in Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20 Erastus stayed in Corinth…); Erastus used to be from Corinth, (see Romans 16:23) and Paul then headed north and west towards Nicopolis, where he hoped Titus would meet him.
Now, we don’t have any real evidence that this is where Paul was arrested. If the order of things after Crete are moved around on the timeline above (and even the placement of Crete on the timeline is no longer certain), Paul might have been arrested in any of the following: Ephesus, Troas, one of the cities of Macedonia, or Nicopolis. A good guestimate is Nicopolis in view that it comes at a time when many different facts are pulled together. If he was arrested quickly after he arrived at Nicopolis, just as the winter weather was moving in, this would explain how Paul found himself in jail in winter in Rome (2 Timothy 4:13 NIV When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments; – and 2 Timothy 4:21 NIV Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters).
Thus ends Paul’s fourth missionary journey. Included in the trip is a mission to Spain, ministry on the island of Crete, ministry in Ephesus, stops at Miletus, Troas, and quite many cities in Macedonia, Corinth, and probably Nicopolis.
What about after Paul’s remaining arrest? After Paul’s arrest, he was once taken to Rome and imprisoned, now not in a residence as at some stage in his former internment, but probably in the infamous, dark, and cold Mamertine Prison around the time that Nero commenced to unleash a horrific wave of persecution in opposition to Christians in the Roman Empire. During his time in prison, Paul was visited by Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-17 NIV May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.  On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.) deserted by several other Christians as he faced trial (2 Timothy 4:16 NIV At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.), and completely abandoned by Demas, Cresens and even Titus, (2 Timothy 4:10 NIV …for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Cresens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.), nevertheless, by hook or by crook, Paul found a way to write the 2nd letter to Timothy (2 Timothy). Paul was aided by Doctor Luke, who sought to attend to his needs (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry).
Paul is believed to have been beheaded instead of being thrown to the wild beasts or killed in some different inhumane way because he was a Roman citizen by birth.
The Acts of the Apostles Chapter 29
The Bible gives a fairly complete account of the life of St. Paul; his conversion, his missionary journeys, and his martyrdom in Rome. But there is a period of time, approximately six years, of which the Bible remains silent. This would be the period after his trial and acquittal in Rome and before his return to Rome to cast his fate with his many converts. These were his Christian brethren who were being put to death by the thousands during the reign of Emperor Nero.
It would be reasonable to assume that during this period, Paul visited Spain as he had planned (Rom. 15:28) and perhaps re-visited some of the churches in Asia Minor. But, Paul had expressed a desire to preach the Gospel to those to whom the name of Christ was not known. There can be no question that Paul had heard of the “Tin Islands” because the Romans had already conquered the greater part of Britain. The Apostle could have met many in Rome and elsewhere who had been there, either as traders or with the Roman army. Having journeyed so near to Britain as Spain and Gaul, it is altogether reasonable to suppose that Paul would have made the short voyage across the English Channel.
The Sonnini Manuscript, better known as the “Long Lost Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles” contains the account of Paul’s journey in Spain and Britain. The document, purporting to be the concluding portion of the “Acts of the Apostles”, covers a portion of the period after Paul’s two years enforced residence in Rome, in his own hired house. It is written in the style of the Acts and reads like a continuation.
It was found interleaved in a copy of “Sonnini’s Travels in Turkey and Greece”, and was purchased at the sale of the library and effects of the late Right Honourable Sir John Newport, Bart., in Ireland. Sir John’s family arms were engraved on the cover of the book. It had been in his possession for over thirty years. With the book was a document from the Sultan of Turkey, granting to C.S. Sonnini permission to travel in all parts of the Ottoman dominions. C. S. Sonnini translated the document from the original Greek manuscript found in the Archives at Constantinople, and presented to him by the Sultan Abdoul Achmet.
Points in favor of the authenticity of the manuscript are:
1. Its being preserved in the Archives of Constantinople.
2. It has all the appearances of being of an ancient date.
3. It is written in Greek, and in the manner of the Acts.
4. The places and peoples mentioned are called by their ancient Roman names.
5. Its Scriptural brevity and conception of the Divine purpose and plan.
6. Its Gospel-like character is dignified and spiritual.
7. Its prophetic expressions are in a Biblical style.
8. Its ending in the word “amen.” (The Biblical Acts of the Apostles and the Book of James are the only two New Testament Books not ending in “amen.” This has lead some Bible scholars to believe they are incomplete in their present form).
The following is the contents of the title page of Sonnini’s work, in which the English translation of the document was found: “Travels in Turkey and Greece undertaken by order of Louis XVI, and with the authority of the Ottoman Court, by Sonnini, member of several scientific or literary societies of the Society of Agriculture of Paris, and of the Observers of Men.”
The following is the English translation of the Manuscript, the authenticity of which cannot be vouched for.
1 And Paul, full of the blessings of Christ, and abounding in the spirit, departed out of Rome, determining to go into Spain, for he had a long time proposed to journey thither ward, and was minded also to go from thence to Britain.
2 For he had heard in Phoenicia that certain of the children of Israel, about the time of the Assyrian captivity, had escaped by sea to “The Isles afar off” as spoken be the Prophet Esdras, and called by the Romans – Britain.
3 And the Lord commanded the gospel to be preached far hence to the Gentiles, and to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.
4 And no man hindered Paul; for he testified boldly of Jesus before the tribunes and among the people; and he took with him cetain of the brethren which abode with him at Rome, and they took shipping at Ostrium and having the winds fair, were brought safely into a haven of Spain.
5 And much people were gathered together from the towns and villages, and the hill country; for they had heard of the conversion to the Apostles, and the many miracles which he had wrought.
6 And Paul preached mightily in Spain, and great multitudes believed and were converted, for they perceived he was an apostle sent from God.
7 And they departed out of Spain, and Paul and his company finding a ship in Armorica sailing unto Britain, they were therein, and passing along the south Coast, they reached a port called Raphinus.
8 Now when it was voiced abroad that the Apostle had landed on their coast, great multitudes of the inhabitants met him, and they treated Paul courteously and he entered in at the east gate of their city, and lodged in the house of an Hebrew and one of his own nation.
9 And on the morrow he came and stood upon Mount Lud and the people thronged at the gate, and assembled in the Broadway, and he preached Christ unto them, and they believed the Word and the testimony of Jesus.
10 And at even the Holy Ghost fell upon Paul, and he prophesied, saying, Behold in the last days the God of Peace shall dwell in the cities, and the inhabitants thereof shall be numbered: and in the seventh numbering of the people, their eyes shall be opened, and the glory of their inheritance shine forth before them. The nations shall come up to worship on the mount the testifieth of the patience and long suffering of a servant of the Lord.
11 And in the latter days new tidings of the Gospel shall issue forth out of Jerusalem, and the hearts of the people shall rejoice, and behold, fountains shall be opened, and there shall be no more plague.
12 In those days there shall be wars and rumors of war; and a king shall rise up, and his sword, shall be for the healing of the nations, and his peacemaking shall abide, and the glory of his kingdom a wonder among princes.
13 And it came to pass that certain of the Druids came unto Paul privately, and showed by their rites and ceremonies they were descended from the Jews which escaped from bondage in the land of Egypt, and the apostle believed these things, and he gave them the kiss of peace.
14 And Paul abode in his lodgings three months confirming in the faith and preaching Christ continually.
15 And after these things Paul and his brethren departed from Raphinus and sailed unto Atium in Gaul.
16 And Paul preached in the Roman garrison and among the people, exhorting all men to repent and confess their sins.
17 And there came to him certain of the Belgae to inquire of him of the new doctrine, and of the man Jesus; And Paul opened his heart unto them and told them all things that had befallen him, howbeit, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and they departed pondering among themselves upon the things which they had heard.
18 And after much preaching and toil, Paul and his fellow laborers passed into Helvetia, and came to Mount Pontius Pilate, where he who condemned the Lord Jesus dashed himself down headlong, and so miserably perished.
19 Immediately a torrent gushed out of the mountain and washed his body, broken in pieces, into a lake.
20 And Paul stretched forth his hands upon the water, and prayed unto the Lord, saying O Lord God, give a sign unto all nations that here Pontius Pilate which condemned thine only-begotten son, plunged down headlong into the pit.
21 And while Paul was yet speaking, behold, there came a great earthquake, and the face of the waters was changed, and the form of the lake like unto the Son of Man hanging in an agony upon the Cross.
22 And a voice came out of heaven saying, Even Pilate hath escaped the wrath to come for he washed his hands before the multitude at the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus
23 When, therefore, Paul and those that were with him saw the earthquake, and heard the voice of the angel, they glorified God, they were mightily strengthened in the spirit.
24 And they journeyed and came to Mount Julius where stood two pillars, one on the right hand and one on the left hand, erected by Caesar Augustus.
25 And Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, stood up between the two pillars, saying, Men and brethren these stones which ye see this day shall testify of my journey hence; and verily I say, they shall remain until the outpouring of the spirit upon all nations, neither shall the way be hindered throughout all generations.
26 And they went forth and came unto Illtricum, intending to go by Macedonia into Asia, and grace was found in all the churches, and they prospered and had peace. Amen.
The Fourth Missionary Journey: What Happened to Paul after Acts? By Kenneth Berding.
Thecla’s story is one of many in the Apocryphal Acts which portray women giving up riches and sexual activity to follow the Apostles. Thecla was an aristocratic woman who, despite great opposition, upon hearing the preaching of Paul, renounces her family and her fiancé to follow him. She eventually becomes a missionary and lives out her life teaching the gospel and performing signs and wonders. This is a contemporary English interpretation which is easy to read and understand.
The world went from calling a ‘clump of cells’ nonhuman, to allowing abortions when the clump of cells begins to ‘look human’, accepting third-trimester abortions, and now pushing for the termination of babies moments before birth, or in some cases, just after birth. It seems that what they are seeking is an all-inclusive licence to kill.
At the beginning of this year I asked God to give me a word for the year. After meditating quietly for a while I got the word ‘Presence’ When Moses was in the wilderness with the Israelites he said to God that he didn’t want to journey any further if God did not come with […]
Acts 4:13-22 AMP Now when the men of the Sanhedrin (that is the Jewish High Court) saw the confidence and boldness of Peter and John, and grasped the fact that they were uneducated and untrained [ordinary] men, they were astounded, and began to recognize that they had been with Jesus.  And seeing the man who had been healed standing there with them, they had nothing to say in reply.  But after ordering them to step out of the Council [chamber], they began to confer among themselves,  saying, “What are we to do with these men? For the fact that an extraordinary miracle has taken place through them is public knowledge and clearly evident to all the residents of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.  But to keep it from spreading further among the people and the nation, let us [sternly] warn them not to speak again to anyone in this name.”  So they sent for them, and commanded them not to speak [as His representatives] or teach at all in the name of Jesus [using Him as their authority].  But Peter and John replied to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you and obey you rather than God, you must judge [for yourselves];  for we, on our part, cannot stop telling [people] about what we have seen and heard.”  When the rulers and Council members had threatened them further, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because [of their fear] of the people, for they, the people, were all praising and glorifying and honouring God for what had happened;  for the man to whom this sign (or attesting miracle) of healing had happened was more than forty years old. Acts 4:29-31 AMP And now, Lord, observe their threats [take them into account] and grant that Your bond-servants may declare Your message [of salvation] with great confidence,  while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders (attesting miracles) take place through the name [and the authority and power] of Your holy Servant and Son Jesus.”  And when they had prayed, the place where they were meeting together was shaken [a sign of God’s presence]; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness and courage.
Acts chapter 4 is such a great chapter, there are so many things you can take from it. It has so many facets that I’m sure our minister could do a whole sermon series just on this one chapter
Verses 1 – 4 tell of how on that day 5,000 men, because only the men mattered in those days, 5,000 men believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and were saved. We may assume that there at least that number of women plus several thousand children, so maybe 10, 11 or 12,000 people came to Christ that day. By way of thanks, Peter and John get arrested and thrown into jail for the night. But were they bothered? No, I expect they added a few more believers during their night in jail because they were fired up and unstoppable. Verses 8 – 12 are a complete mini gospel all on their own telling the story of Jesus in five short verses 13 – 22 is the trial before the Sanhedrin and a lesson in defiant apologetics. 29 – 31 shows how powerful spirit filled prayer brings a powerful and earth moving response from the Lord. And finally 32 – 37, a model for the church about the love of the brothers and sisters, their fellowship and their sacrificial provision for each other.
Three things to take from the parts of passage we read above.
Verse 13. Now when the men of the Sanhedrin saw the confidence and boldness of Peter and John, and grasped the fact that they were uneducated and untrained [ordinary] men, they were astounded, and began to recognize that they had been with Jesus.
The Sanhedrin were in awe of these uneducated men. Why? Because they could see that they had been with Jesus. They grasped the fact that they had been with the Risen Lord, it does not say that it was reported to them, nor does it say that they had foreknowledge that they had been with Jesus, it came to them as a realisation, these men were so different to others of their class, they had such boldness, eloquence and authority when they spoke that the only explanation was that they had been with the Risen Lord. Their very appearance said everything about them. They must have been so filled with the Holy Spirit that they were leaking, and anyone who saw them knew that they had been with Jesus. Even the Sanhedrin, who were a stiff-necked people with hearts of stone.
Verse 19, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you and obey you rather than God, you must judge [for yourselves];  for we, on our part, cannot stop telling [people] about what we have seen and heard.
Why would they want to do that? They had been threatened and ordered by the highest court in the land not to speak of Him again. Why? Simple, because they were not under earthly authority, they were under heavenly authority. It reminds us of when Jesus said in Luke 19.40, If I may paraphrase it a little, If we keep silent, the stones will cry out in praise. They had no fear of men only a fear of the Lord.
And finally, Verse 23, When the rulers and Council members had threatened them further, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because [of their fear] of the people, for they, the people, were all praising and glorifying and honouring God for what had happened;
The fear we have here is a mortal fear, fear for their own safety, they were frightened that the people would turn against them and may even start a riot and attack the Sanhedrin. What we do not have here is any fear of the Lord. The Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of the day had no fear of God! Now in biblical terms, a fear of the people is quite different from a fear of the Lord. Fear of people is all about personal safety and self-preservation, a fear of the Lord is a reverential fear, and awestruck veneration because of God’s holiness. So, here we have the so called holy men, (that’s holy with a small h), the holy men of Israel showing no fear in God but only self interest in their own position and fear of the mob.
Now the peroration. (That’s a new word I learnt this week). We are not the religious leaders of our day, who preach a gospel to keep us safe and not to offend the ears of those who hear, we want to preach the uncomfortable and true gospel with the confidence and boldness of Peter and John, so that people will be astounded, and begin to recognise that we too have been with Jesus. And secondly, we want to pray as they prayed, when they prayed they prayed in the Spirit, they went to the mercy seat with Christ seated under the wings of the Cherubim, not as Moses did, in the tent of meeting in the desert, but into the heavenly realms, and so, verse 31 again, and when they had prayed, the place where they were meeting together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness and courage, and that is my prayer for us all today.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”
Following Jesus requires listening for his voice. The problem is that we let too many other voices drown out Jesus’ voice.
First is the voice of compromise. It says, “Everything is negotiable.” With Jesus, however, there is no dealing. No negotiation. No compromise. With him it is all or nothing.
Second is the voice of expedience. It says, “I have other affairs to attend to, for I am a busy person.” Our agendas are full. We are a people of pragmatism. Let’s get on it and get it over with.
Third is the voice of politics. This voice asks the question, “Is it popular?” The voice of politics lacks the courage to stand up for what is right.
But finally, there is the voice of God. The still small voice speaks to the heart, saying, “Follow Jesus.” It is the voice rapping on the door of our heart asking us to obey. It doesn’t plead or demand or beg. It yearns, but it does not yell.
How many people do you think leave a church service in which the gospel is preached, knowing they should respond to Jesus but don’t? Our hearts can become calloused. The more we refuse to listen to God, the harder our hearts become. Ignore the voice and fail to heed it, and eventually the voice of God can hardly be heard.
Pilate heard so many voices that day as he pondered what to do with Jesus. He heard the voice of compromise, the voice of expedience, and the voice of politics. So many voices. He even heard the voice of God. How could he not? Jesus was standing right in front of him.