Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer is low-key but we've been plugging along with our study of Acts. Another session is this coming Tuesday. Last time, we ... I mean, me ... met at Rev. Searl's house. It was my chance to see her addition/remodel project and I must say, I loved it. It's a cute house to begin with but adding a great room on the back, with the corresponding basement space makes it just perfect for holidays and family get-togethers.

Mary opted to lead and, after shooing the kids downstairs to the cozy playroom, she and I began. Our focus was, in the first half, Acts 22:30 through 23:11. We saw no reason not to take the drama of Acts 23:2-5 at face value: that somehow Paul failed to recognize the high priest and insulted him. But what struck me about the scene - pardon the pun - is how the Pharisees "find nothing wrong [κακός, 'evil'] with this man" (v. 9 NIV) and that maybe a spirit or angel had spoken to him. Sure, the Pharisees are just trying to get the Sadducees' goat: the latter believe in neither the resurrection nor spirits/angels. Those two convictions would go rather hand-in-hand. The dispute shows what a tinderbox is the Sanhedrin: Paul is just one of many things they'll argue over. Somehow Keller thinks the Pharisees' judgment exonerates Paul but, in fact, it doesn't settle Paul's case.

Compare Paul the Pharisee vis-à-vis Christians with Paul the Christian vis-à-vis the Pharisees. What about Christian belief and practice drove Saul of Tarsus to the point of "breathing murderous threats against the Lord's disciples" (9:1) and where did that point of contention slip away to during his supervised meeting with the Sanhedrin? And when we interact with people today whom we might be tempted to classify as "Pharisees," do we manage to remain in their good graces or do we run afoul?

There were plenty of times - seemingly almost all the time - that Paul alienated someone by his words or actions. But this singular case shows us that he was capable of not. I think most of us have only one "mode" of arguing our case instead of allowing the circumstances to dictate. If nothing else, this scene in Scripture rounds out Paul's image for us and backs up his claim to "be all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22)."

I'm on the hook to facilitate the next two lessons. Each lesson has five questions, often with multiple and related parts. I've prepared the first lesson so far. In Lesson 25, the first three questions treat 24:22-27. It's a lot of headshrinker stuff, IMO.
What makes you think Felix is open to the gospel?

Why might he not be open?

What is Paul actually saying to Felix when Luke says, "righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment (v. 25)?"
The only practical discussion of the lot is an insistence that Christians respect civil authority as established by God, with Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus cited as clear, Scriptural examples. I haven't read the debate in August's CT over smuggling Bibles into China but I hope to read that before Tuesday and present anything of relevance. Of course, I could mention the recent spectacle of Baptists going to Haiti with the objective of adopting some children without appropriate papers. It's unclear from people who flout the law whether they think the law unjust or simply themselves above it.

But as for the content of Paul's preaching before Felix and his (previously married) young wife, I think Paul talked about how to lay hold of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, how self-control came from that as a gift of the Holy Spirit and how one escapes condemnation at the final judgment by making peace with God through Jesus. A most interesting footnote in my SRSB said Drusilla died at Pompeii in 79 when Vesuvius erupted. Maybe that's why Keller has her barely out of her teens when she hears Paul: she would have died quite old otherwise.

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