Friday, September 30, 2016

The New Community, Part 7/7

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame
PART 7/7

The New Community, Part 1
The New Community, Part 2
The New Community, Part 3
The New Community, Part 4
The New Community, Part 5
The New Community, Part 6

Paul's first assignment was to visit those believers in Jerusalem whom he had most severely persecuted: the Hellenists. No doubt recalling the fate of Stephen, their reaction was perhaps predictable: they sought to kill him.

28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30)

God had other, bigger plans for Paul, and in a vision he told Paul to leave Jerusalem. No doubt this was in part for his safety, but in the larger scheme of God’s sovereignty we see that Paul’s real mission is about to commence. In Paul’s own words, recounting the episode:

17"When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 19" 'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' 21"Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' " (Acts 22:17-21)

Paul’s friends spirited him away, first to Caesarea and ultimately to Tarsus. His few years in Tarsus are a mystery. Some believe that Paul’s statement:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8)

indicates a family disinheritance. The timelines suggest that some of his “forty stripes save one” lashings (2 Cor., 11:24) occurred at the hands of the Jews in Tarsus. Toward the end of this obscure period, he has a mysterious experience:

2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. 3And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- 4was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. (2 Cor. 12:2-4)

This experience left him with an undisclosed lifelong physical ailment, a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7) , which was apparently for his spiritual benefit.
Whether Paul thought he was wasting in obscurity is unknown. It is clear in hindsight that the Lord was strengthening him for his life’s work. And it commenced sometime in A.D. 45, when his friend Barnabas, who had commended him to the apostles, arrived like a bolt out of the blue. It seemed that the Lord had work to be done in Antioch, and Paul was the man for the job.
(And that would be the next series…)


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