Sermon for Sunday Evening, June 18th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 18:1-6 ESV] 1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
What do you wish people would find your doing when they show up out of the blue?
My dream is of people showing up and I’m working hard. I guess my nightmare is someone showing up and I’m doing something foolish, wasting my time. The vision that comes to my mind is that of my seminary President. The Colonel Chaplain Ret. Andrew Zeller. A scholarly fella indeed – he has a doctorate in preaching from Gordon-Conwell Seminary. But it seemed that I’d always come upon him replacing a broken wooden stair tread at the seminary library steps, or putting up new siding on one of the seminary houses. It was always something. I don’t recall ever seeing him dilly-dally.
Well, we have Silas and Timothy arrive in Corinthia from Macedonia and what do they find? Paul is sleeping? Paul is taking a break? Now, of course, everybody needs a break once in a while. But they find Paul “occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”
Might a person find you doing that? Someone shows up and … you’re working for the Lord. I have showed up at church members houses and have found them reading the Bible. That is a great sign.
Well, let’s take a step back. Paul leaves Athens for Corinth. He meeds Aquila and Priscilla there who had recently come from Italy because emperor Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. This gives us another time clue for these events. Claudius reigned from AD 41-54. And there are different theories as to when this “expulsion of the Jews from Rome” occurred. But we’re likely somewhere around 49 or 50 or 51 AD at this point.
But why were the Jews kicked out of Rome?
We have to understand that the Jews were in a lot of cities by this point. It is called the Diaspora. They had dispersed from Israel. Some of this diaspora was quite ancient, ever since the Jews had been conquered and brought into captivity in Babylon (and some stayed there). But the Jewish diaspora to the Roman world probably began in the first century before Christ (around 63 BC when Jerusalem was captured and Jewish prisoners were brought to Rome. Then more Jews came to Rome in the time of Herod the Great. So a lot of this emigration was forced. It wasn’t for business reasons. But they retained their religion and ethnic identity, and now trouble was brewing in Rome.
The Roman historian Suetonius had a mention of this event. “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [the Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome.”
There are debates on this question, but “Chrestus” is probably, in my view, a corruption of “Christ.” And we can see at this early people that the followers of Christ are not called Christians but are called “Jews” as most of them would have been Jewish.
And we remember that Paul is being included among those “turning the world upside-down.” Probably some other Christians had made it to Rome. And either the Romans didn’t like their preaching, or more likely, the Romans didn’t like that the Jews were arguing with other Jews over whether Jesus was the Messiah. We see that in every town Paul went to there were some who believed and some who did not, and it rose to the level of violence. Claudius didn’t want that, and so he kicked them all out of Rome. Why Aquila and Priscilla leave not just Rome but all of Italy, I don’t know. Perhaps they needed to get further away to be safe.
But this couple, Aquila and Priscilla, are also working diligently for the Lord. In Romans 16:3 Paul calls these two “fellow works in Christ Jesus.”
So if you showed up somewhere where they were, you’d likely find them working for the Lord. Yes, like Paul they had a second job. They were bivocational. Tentmakers, just like Paul. We use this term now for Christian workers who do additional work – tentmakers. But here it literally means they made tents. This shows us that it is acceptable for Christian workers to work both for the church and in other business pursuits. They don’t take a vow, like a monk or some priests, to do no other work.
Now, when Paul finds the Jews opposing his preaching, perhaps he thinks for a minute about Aquila and Priscilla. They had been working in Rome. And clearly there are some Jews there, but far more Gentiles. So maybe Paul is spurred on by their work to now “go to the Gentiles.”
Of course we’ve seen Paul preaching to the Gentiles all along. He preaches first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. He goes to the Synagogue in each town, but he also goes to the public marketplace. He certainly did so at Athens, preaching to the Gentiles at the Aeropagus.
And Paul continues to go to both Jews and Gentiles after this episode. In Ephesus he’ll enter the synagogue (of the Jews). He even goes back to Jerusalem, where there are Jews.
So what does it mean that “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
In the context it might be that he’s just talking about his work there in Corinth. After some Jews “oppose and revile him” he shook out his garments and said “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And then IN CORINTH he goes to Titius Justus and to Crispus. Now these men are called, respectively “a worshipper of God” and “the ruler of the synagogue” but they both have Gentile names. Titius Justus, because of his name, is probably a Roman citizen. And Crispus is a Latin name meaning “curly haired.”
So Paul, IN CORINTH, goes to the Gentiles.
But he is also “an apostle to the Gentiles.” (Romans 11:13)
So Paul has a special mission to them.
Paul was called the apostle to the Gentiles because 1) he was called to that by God and 2) the bulk of his ministry was spent in pagan lands planting churches among the Gentiles. But this doesn’t mean he stopped preaching to the Jews.
Paul preaches to all people, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not limited to the Jews, nor is it limited to the Gentiles. It is for all people.
In fact, when the Scriptures use that term or idea “all people” they are almost invariably referring to “both Jew and Gentile.” It is not a universal statement saying that Christ has died and brought forgiveness to each and every person, but it is saying that OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD there are people of all nations.
So Paul is going from place to place, preaching the word of God, so that all may hear and believe.
Paul is not abandoning all of the Jews, but merely those in Corinth who would not believe.
The blood is on their hands. This is what Paul says also in Acts 20:26 – that he has preached to them in Ephesus the whole counsel of God and so is pure from the blood of all men. If they will not believe, it is not his fault.
The idea comes from Ezekiel 33:8-9
[Eze 33:8-9 ESV] 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
We, like Paul, knowing the Gospel, ought to tell others! How can we not warn others of the wrath that is to come?
If we fail to warn the wicked, they will die in their iniquity. And, if it weren’t for Christ, their blood would be on our hands. But we are forgiven, we are saved, not by our ability and insistency on preachings the Word of God, but we are saved by Jesus Christ.
Yet, it is God’s plan that people will hear the word through us. So we must preach to all. To Jew and to Gentile. To all people in all places. Rome as well as Corinth. Jerusalem as well as Athen. There is that old phrase “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” Tertullian, the 2nd century Christian said that. “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” His point was that we are not to mix Greek Philosophy with Biblical Truth.
But there is something in common with Athens, Jerusalem, and all other places. The word of God is needed everywhere.
Jesus himself told his disciples: Matthew 28:19-20
God calls people to certain tasks, and equips them with the skills needed. Paul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles and had been blessed with Roman citizenship and the ability to speak Greek, and the ability to make tents to provide a livelihood. He was set up to preach to the Gentiles. Does this mean he wouldn’t preach to a Jew? Of course not.
Likewise, we might say in our day “one man is a country preacher, another works in the inner city.” They are called, each with the right gifts, and if they switched places it probably wouldn’t go that well. But would an inner-city preacher not be glad to tell the gospel to a farmer? Or would a country farmer not proclaim the Gospel to an apartment dwelller? Of course note. Their gifting and focus in one area does not preclude all others, but is a specialty, a special focus, a calling of God.
We may each have a special calling, to a particular work, but we have a general calling as well.
We are to work in each out own places, where we are called.
But there is a general calling as well. It is to BE CHRISTIANS WHEREVER YOU ARE, and whoever crosses your path. Your main job is really your family, and then your employment to provide for them, but when you have an opportunity for the Lord, you take it. You help out others, telling them of the Grace of God, showing them the Grace of God. Caring for them, in body and soul.
Consider both of these. Your specific calling, and your general calling.
The Lord has called you specifically to be a parent to children, to work in some field or another (making tents perhaps).
But the Lord has called you also to BE a Christian in all places and to all people. You’re not just loving to family or to other Christians, but love all of your neighbors.