IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





Mission Accomplished

Date: Jul. 6, 2014

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Acts 20:12-38

Key Verse: Acts 20:24

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

Have you ever known anyone who really likes to finish what they start? If they start a book, they like to make sure they read it to the end, no matter how good or bad, or short or long the book is. If they start a project like fixing the car or building a bookshelf, they are not happy until they have finished what they are working on. You see; I am one of those people. I like to finish what I start. If I make a decision on something, then I want to make sure I see it through to the end, no exceptions. Before entering college, I was determined to get a degree in Aerospace Engineering. I looked to see which universities in Illinois carried the degree and found two: the University of Illinois in Urbana and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. I chose to come to IIT and as time went on, I added a minor and then another major, but I never wavered in my direction. I carried on until the final year. In my last semester, I needed to take seven classes in order for me to graduate. It seemed a bit daunting, but I pushed on and took the seven classes, including economics, an independent study on game theory, a microcomputers course in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, a humanities course, an IPRO, and two senior design courses for each of my majors. By God’s grace, there was only one final exam, but there were three final presentations for projects. I honestly have no idea how it all worked out, but after four years of college, I graduated with two degrees and a minor. I’m not saying this to make myself look good or smart, but I just want to show my mission was accomplished. I wanted to graduate in four years with an aerospace engineering degree, and I did and then some. I didn’t care about the cost to myself. I had a goal, a mission, and I made sure it was accomplished. In a very similar way, Paul was very close to accomplishing his mission. His third missionary journey was drawing to a close and he was determined to get to Jerusalem. Not only was his third missionary journey closing, but also his entire ministry in the eastern part of the Mediterranean was coming to an end. Paul was very much looking forward to finishing what he started those many years prior.

Our passage today starts out, “We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.” (13-16) Last week, we saw Paul and his companions in Troas, where Paul was having one of the longest worship services in recorded history. He spoke all night long and into the morning. Not even someone dying would stop him. Paul just brought that person back from the dead and kept on talking until daybreak. After that, they all set out and began their journey to Jerusalem. The first paragraph in the passage, which I just read, covers about five days journey from Troas to a place called Miletus. The trip starts out with all of Paul’s companions getting on a boat to go to Assos, while he walked there on foot. It was only about twenty miles from Troas to Assos by land, and it was probably an easier journey, too. The sea route was actually longer and more difficult. They may have been taking a small boat that stayed close to the coast in order to find a larger ship in Miletus that would take them to Palestine.

The trip to Miletus is given in incredible detail. The author Luke mentions a number of places. There are a lot of small places that we’ve never really heard about before, like Assos or Mitylene. However, there are a couple of islands that are of note. After leaving Mitylene, the boat arrives of Chios. Chios has important literary history. The famed poet, the author of the Iliad and Odyssey, Homer was born on the island of Chios. After leaving Chios, Paul and his companions arrive at the island of Samos. This island, too, has important history to mathematics lovers. Samos was the birthplace of Pythagoras, who is known by many as the founder of mathematics. Even though we don’t really recognize these names and places today, they were well known during Paul’s time and give credence to the validity of the Bible, like we heard last week from Bob. From Samos, the team journeyed to Miletus which is about thirty miles from Ephesus, and even longer by the coastal road.

The passage says that Paul sailed past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, because he wanted to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost. Yet in the next verse, after arriving in Miletus, Paul sends for the Ephesian elders. Some people have done the math, and it is estimated that it would take five days for a messenger to leave Miletus and the Ephesian elders to arrive. That seems like a long time for someone who is in a hurry. It feels like there is a discrepancy. He was in a hurry, but he waited for five days for the elders to come. What gives? Why have them come if he was in a rush to get to Jerusalem? The answer to this whole conundrum is two-fold. Paul knew that this would be his last opportunity to give some wisdom directly to the elders. Paul’s time in this region was over, and he wanted to complete what he had started. He wanted to leave the region knowing that he had given everything that he could to the church, without withholding anything. That’s the reason Paul needed to talk to the Ephesian elders, but the reason he didn’t want to stop in Ephesus itself was because, they would have wanted him to stay even longer than the five days it took for the elders to arrive in Miletus. Paul wanted to give some final remarks, but he didn’t want to get stuck in Ephesus for an entire month or so.

When the elders arrived, Paul talked to them and gave them this address. It is interesting to note that in the book of Acts, this is the third recorded speech of any significant length for Paul. There is one recorded for each of his missionary journeys. The first was in Pisidian Antioch in the synagogue (Acts 13:16-41). The second was in Athens in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31). This one differs from those two in that the first two were given to people who didn’t believe in Jesus, whereas this speech was definitely directed to believers. Because of the audience of the speech, the words recorded in this passage are very similar to some of Paul’s letters, since they too were addressed to other Christians. Also, this speech is actually a farewell speech, very similar in many ways to the other farewell speeches in the Bible, like Jacob’s legacy to his sons in the book of Genesis (Genesis 49) or Joshua’s farewell address to the Israelites in the book of Joshua (Joshua 23-24) or Samuel’s farewell in the book of 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 12) or Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (Luke 22:14-38, John 13-17). I’m not going to go into detail on those farewells, but they have some common parts. First, the speaker assembles the family or followers. Second, the speaker will soon depart or die. Third, there can be an appeal to follow the example of the speaker. Fourth, there can be a plea to behave a certain way. Fifth, there is often a prediction of trail or difficulty for the hearers. Paul’s speech here has all these components.

Let’s take a closer look at the speech. The first paragraph starts out, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (18-21) Paul starts out reminding the Ephesians how he served them. Paul reminds them that he never held anything back from them. Paul taught them about Jesus and his grace publicly and privately. Also, there was no discrimination between Jews and Greeks. Paul freely shared the good news to all people. This is a sharp contrast to other religions and philosophies. The way of the world is to have secret teachings that are withheld for certain people or only shared in private. The good news of Jesus’ grace is like a breath of fresh air to all other beliefs because there are no secret teachings. There is just turning to God in repentance and having faith in our Lord Jesus.

In the next paragraph Paul tells the elders the reason why he has to go. “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (22-24) This paragraph shows the urgency of why Paul called the Ephesian elders to Miletus. Paul was heading to Jerusalem because the Holy Spirit compelled him. It was tugging at his heart telling him that he needs to go to Jerusalem, but the Spirit was also warning him. It almost looks like the Spirit is being indecisive. It was telling Paul to go, but it was also telling him to not go. However, in reality, the Spirit wasn’t trying to discourage Paul from going to Jerusalem, he wanted Paul to know what was waiting him. Heading to Jerusalem would not be easy. Paul would be imprisoned, but he wasn’t sure if he would die in Jerusalem or if there was more to God’s plan. Paul wanted to give these final words because he knew that he wasn’t coming back.

Paul continues, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (25-31) Again, Paul reminds the Ephesians that he has held nothing back, but gave the whole will of God. He, then, warns the elders of what is about to happen to them. Paul urges them to keep watch and to be on their guard. People were coming to distort the gospel or truth and the church was going to be divided among people, but they needed to be careful. They shouldn’t take the threat lightly. Jesus purchased the church with his own blood. It was not something that they could lose. The church belonged to Jesus and no one else. The threat that Paul speaks about would not be an external threat. It would come from among the believers. The elders didn’t need to watch out for those outside the church, they needed to be on guard for their own sins.

Paul’s final words to the elders were another exhortation to follow his example, especially in the fact of giving. “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (32-35) Paul reminded the Ephesians that he did not desire silver or gold or clothing. Paul took nothing from the Ephesians, but he provided for himself and his companions. He was not a burden to the church, but freely gave to those who needed it. Paul worked very hard so that he could help the weak and now he was reminding the church that they, too, must raise the weak up through hard work. This isn’t a call for hard work to be a means of salvation, but that shouldn’t stop us from working hard. Paul quotes Jesus to give support for this idea. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul wanted the church to be generous and giving because those attributes are attributes of grace. They were to work hard to show grace to others.

In Paul’s speech, the final words he gives to the church really do show that he felt that his mission in this region was coming to a close. He knew that he would never see them again. There wouldn’t be any more chances for him to plead with them with tears to hold on to the gospel. There wouldn’t be any more chances for them to see his example of following Jesus. He wanted to make sure that they had everything to operate independently. It was so important for them to continue on the path the Paul led them on for so many years. Paul couldn’t be there any more because God was nudging him to move on. His mission in the region was coming to an end and his focus was turning west. Paul had preached and established churches in the major cities in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. It was an end of an era. The apostolic leadership was passing the baton of leadership to the hands of appointed elders. The next generation of leaders was taking their place and Paul was moving on, his task completed.

I mentioned at the beginning that Paul wanted to complete his task. He wanted to finish his mission, but honestly, for a lot of people, finishing well is not a strong point. There are more people out there who never finish what they start. They are driven by their emotions and that can mean that they are like a leaf in the breeze. It is a fundamental quality for me to finish what I start, but some people don’t even have that quality. Some people don’t even care about it. To them, it is not a big deal that something is left incomplete. It’s not a priority. If you are like that, you might wonder what this has to do with you. It’s not that big of a deal, right?

It can be a big deal because of where the task or mission came from. Paul’s mission didn’t originate in an idea that he had. This wasn’t something that he thought up one day, thinking it was a good idea to go out into the world and preach. Paul said, in this passage, that his task came from Jesus (24). Paul will recount later that when he became a Christian, Jesus told him that he would be a light to the Gentiles. When the time came, he went out and shared the message of grace to people who never heard of it before no matter if they were Jew or Greek. Since the task came from Jesus, Paul was eager to complete it and to do so with everything he had.

Finishing what Jesus gives us to do is important because it is Jesus who gives the task to us. Think about it, if you are a follower of Jesus, wouldn’t you want to make sure that you do what he asks to the best of your ability out of thanks for what he has done for you? Jesus gave everything he had, including is life and blood, to buy us back from a life of sin. He sets us free from the bondage of pain, doubt and disappointment that our sins had over us. We were guilty, but we were given freedom. If Jesus asks us to do something, should we be half-hearted in our attempt? No! That only shows that we are not thankful for the gift that Jesus gives us. What Jesus asks of us is easy compared to the weight of sin and death around our neck. Half-hearted attempts at completing tasks that Jesus gives us tell Jesus that we don’t care about him or love him. It is an insult to the fact that he gave everything for you. You spit in his face every time you don’t respond in kind. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. He died for you are you are not nothing. You are more precious that jewels, treasured like a prize. How does that make you feel? Does that fill you with a big “Meh” or does that cut you to the core and reveal a beating heart? Jesus said that to love him is to obey him, and those who do not obey him do not love him (John 14:23-24).

It is not necessarily easy to know what our task is. “What am I supposed to do?” is a common thought, but something we do know is that God equips us with everything that we need to complete the task given us. We are never left lacking anything and we are never given extra. Whatever we are given is to be used for the task that we were assigned. God gives us tools to do his work. He doesn’t give us a set of knives and tells us to paint a picture. We would slice through the canvas in no time. We also can’t cook dinner with paint and paintbrushes. You have to have the right tools to do the right job. So there might be a hint of your task in who God created you to be. What do you like to do and can that be used for God’s glory? If you are friendly, you can invite people. If you are intellectual, you can teach. If you are quiet, you can pray. If you sing, then sing praise to God. If you plan, then plan for God. Our tasks can be large or small, but they are our tasks. It will be different for everyone. Paul’s was to share Jesus and plant churches and he did so to the best of his ability. He gave everything no matter what his condition was. He gave when he was under duress by the Jews and when times were good. He did it everything, all the way to the end.

Martin Luther was a man who was constantly tortured by his sin. He never felt that this sins were atoned for and he would spend hours in confession over mundane things, so much so that the confessional priests were so tired of him that they told him to come back when he had something real to confess. One day, as Luther was going through the book of Galatians, which was written by Paul, the gospel of grace hit him straight in the heart. The church forgot grace for centuries, but Luther found it and it was a weight off his shoulders. He didn’t have to atone for his sins. Jesus already did that. Jesus died so he could live and he could not lose it because it was a gift from God. It was a revelation and he tried to help the church see, but eventually he realized that people needed to see it for themselves. You see, at that point in time, the Bible was only written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; there were no local language translations. The word of God was inaccessible to the common person. To show people God’s grace, Luther took it upon himself to translate the Bible into the local language German. He first translated the New Testament from the original Greek into German and later he translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into German even though he had little knowledge of Hebrew. Luther’s most important task of the Reformation was to get the word of God into the hands of regular people. They had to know for themselves the gospel of God’s grace. The full Bible was translated and published in 1534, but Luther kept refining it for another 12 years until is death in 1546. He completed his task and put the word of God directly into the hands of ordinary people.

Luther’s life and the revelation that God gave him made him the prime candidate to bring God’s word to the masses. He realized the importance God’s grace and it motivated him out of love for God and his people to share it with others. In many ways, Luther is like Paul in his determination to complete the task given him. We can use them as examples in our own lives in following Jesus. God’s gift is so great that we can’t help but do our part to tell others what Jesus has done. It is a very simple task with great ramifications on our lives. If we truly love Jesus, then we will take that task to heart and finish it to the best of our ability, according to the tools given us.

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Daily Bread

Prepare the Way for the Lord

Luke 3:1-20

Key Verse: 3:4

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.

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Intro Daily