THE APOSTLE PAUL?
1. INTRODUCTION – The Premise of these pages.
To cut to the chase, I have discovered in the book of Acts a biblical model of apostolic operation and evangelism that has frankly astounded me. The way I now perceive this “model” of ministry, this “Ultimativen Höhepunkt Beispiel”, is what I personally now refer to as (what it surely must be), “The Peak of Apostolic Ministry”. There must be others out there who have read the bible more often and with a deeper insight than I could ever dream of. However, I have to say, that in nearly half a century of reading and studying the Old and New Testament, studying ascribed authorities and historians, listening to apostolic type men of God and bible teachers, I have never heard of, or perceived before what I am sharing in these pages.
I feel like some explorer ploughing across Africa, or the Atlantic in an attempt to fill in some huge blank space of the accepted maps of planet earth. I did not know there was a black space so large, and so basic in my understanding that is, until I saw what I have tried to lay out in these pages. I feel like the man in the Crow’s nest shouting loud and clear, “Land Ho!” What I see is plainly, to my eyes at least, a huge continent, that to my understanding has never been negotiated before .
I am referring to the Apostle Paul’s, “Annus Mirabilis”. (It was actually more than one year, it was a period of two to three years where he peaked).
Many great men and women in history have experienced a period that could be referred to as their “Annus Mirabilis”. The term was initially created, I believe, by historians and commentators describing Einstein’s discoveries during his lifetime. “Annus,” is Latin for, “year”.“Mirabilis” means “outstanding,” or “extraordinary”. Indeed, Einstein’s papers on Relativity are referred to by many physicists as, “The Annus Mirabilis papers”. For Einstein, his peak year was 1905. The four articles he wrote in that year contributed substantially to the foundation of modern physics, creating a field of study and research presently known as quantum physics, changing views on space, time and matter. It was as if everything Einstein lived for and thought through was fully developed and presented to the world during the course of 1905. Thereafter he spent his life struggling to go beyond the content of those papers, whilst concurrently justifying them to the world. He lived 50 years more, after his Annus Mirabilis, and was fully acknowledged for his great genius throughout those years because of what he had seen and revealed to the world during 1905. As far as published papers and statements are concerned, he never surpassed his revelations of that year. We remember Einstein because of his life’s production in 1905.
ALBERT EINSTEIN HAD HIS OWN “ANNUS MIRABILIS.”
Sir Isaac Newton’s Annus Mirabilis was 1666. Newton was born 1643. His revelations on calculus, gravity, motion and optics was received by the world, and scientists in particular, as something far beyond astounding. He revealed them all to the world in the year of the great fire of London at the age of 23. He lived another 61 years thereafter, but never exceeded his miracle year of 1666 in astonishing breakthroughs and discoveries of scientific thought.
Yet another example is Christopher Columbus. He strove and fought to be sponsored and released so that he could sail Westward, and thereafter return home from the East. I remember learning at school that, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the sea so blue.” He enjoyed his Annus Mirabilis (which was actually much longer than a year), but yet again, the rest of his life was comparatively downhill after his discovery of the West Indies.
What is the nature of my discovery?
I see Paul’s mission in Acts 19, concluding with his speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, as his ultimate Annus Mirabilis. For him it was a two to three year period of astonishing “productivity”, in a glorious intense extension of the Kingdom of God. I believe Paul’s peak, his ultimate experience of the greatness of God’s power and grace upon his life as an apostle, was the ministry he invested at Ephesus. I see all that went before as a learning curve leading and building up to his Ephesian Mission. These papers are intending to explain why I hold that conviction.
Saul of Tarsus was converted in Acts chapter 9 round about 35 to 36 AD. Authorities differ when trying to be exact re the date of the Damascus Road Christophany that turned a man who was systematically wanting to kill Christians, into the most powerful evangelist for Christ. We are not sure how long a time he spent in Arabia immediately after his conversion (Galatians 1:15 -17). That period, however, was undoubtedly a period spent seeking after God and gaining revelation on his newly given belief system and personal understanding of walking with Christ. He was not, for that period, “in ministry” per se. At least, not as far as we know. He, soon after, returned to more “silent” years in his home town of Tarsus, leaving us utterly ignorant as to what he was doing during his stay there. This was a period that some scholars think was as long as 9 years (Acts 9:30 till Acts 11:25-26).
I have to intersperse here with a remark that shall be elucidated upon later explaining how Paul’s reminiscences in the letter we refer to as Second Corinthians, highlights many startling and shocking experiences that the book of Acts does not even hint at. My point is that what I am here referring to as a, possibly, “silent” nine years may possibly not have been silent or static at all. Any input on that must be pure conjecture. These are things we would all love to know, but alas are historically told nothing about their chronological position in the life of Paul.
“Silent”, or vociferously active, he was invited by Barnabas to leave Tarsus and join the ministry team in the church at Syrian Antioch. He was there for a few years before being sent out by the church.
Once he was prophetically set apart by the church in Antioch, along with Barnabas, and set off for Cyprus, he was, geographically, a “flyer” (Acts 13:2-4). He seems, through the biblical text, to flit about freely enjoying – or better still “enduring” – short evangelistic thrusts in many places. More often than not the Bible does not mention at all how long his stays were.
WALKING THROUGH EPHESUS TODAY.
His first missional journey was something like three years long (Acts 13:4 – 14:26). In that period he stopped and preached at Salamis and Paphos, while crossing Cyprus, followed by a sea crossing to Attalia, then travelling on land to Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. He then returned by exactly the same route, revisiting the converts made on the outward journey. No mention at all is made of the lengths of his stays in these places. We are, however, confident in asserting that those visits were short, sharp, brief and to the point in this first journey. This was a most remarkable baptism into winning Gentile converts to faith in Jesus Christ, and climbing the “learning curve” on how to teach and handle gentile people pastorally in the context of what were, to Paul, foreign cultures. He was here dealing with non Jewish people in various cultural contexts, each surrounded with a large Jewish contingent that were constantly decrying Saul, who, during that first mission had changed his name to Paul (a none Jewish name). He had undoubtedly taken the leading role as the senior brother over Barnabas by the time they had completed their journey.
Paul’s knowledge base of how to cope with gentile culture, together with the cross wiring of Jewish insistence of injecting more Judaism into his message, and how to move in the grace given to him as an apostle, was a long and difficult process that was necessary and vital for the future of the church. Many Jews at that time saw Christianity as a cultic off shoot from Judaism, while Paul’s message insisted that Judaism was merely Christianity in gestation.
A year or so later, after returning to base (ie: Syrian Antioch), Paul’s second missionary trip was with Silas (Acts 15: 36 – 18:22). Again, in a period of between two to possibly four years, Paul visits other parts of Syria, then moves on through Cilicia, Lystra, Phrygia, Galatia, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Athens. We have no particular idea as to how long Paul spent in these places, apart from the sure and certain knowledge that he spent two weeks only (three Sabbaths) in Thessalonica (Acts 17: 2-10). Does this mean that two to three weeks was the norm? Any detailed answer has to be pure conjecture. The text seems to suggest that each stop was a brief one, that is, until he arrives at infamous Corinth.
Eighteen months at Corinth was the longest stretch he had, up to that point of time, stayed anywhere whilst on an evangelistic mission. He stayed there on the specific instruction of Jesus Christ Himself, who literally appeared to him in order to instruct him to stay put, and reap a considerable harvest (Acts 18: 9-11). The words of Jesus to Paul explicitly state that there was a huge number of prospective converts who lived in Corinth, waiting to be won over to the faith by his ministry during those days.
THE OLD DAY IS CLOSING. A NEW DAY IS ON ITS WAY.
It seems to me that something different had happened in heaven and on earth, and God’s overseeing providence in Paul’s life from those days in Corinth and onwards. The physical attacks on his person were less violent and ineffective in comparison to his previous experiences of mob rule. It was as if the motives and accusations of the demonically inspired mobs were sedated somewhat by God’s grace and through the Roman proconsul in Corinth, who went by the name of Gallio. Or was it that by Divine intervention that Paul was being prepared for an evangelistic thrust, for which Corinth was but a precursor? One and a half years later, Paul was actually free to leave Corinth without being stoned, attacked, vilified or persecuted within that leaving process. Not wanting to be trivial or light about this issue, but it was as if God had fully accredited Paul’s status into being a “senior” Apostle of Christ, worthy to stay in a single province for such a time of building, and allowing him time to both found and build church (ie: the people) there, properly. He was, after all, going to be ministering in Asia for a similar length of time that Christ ministered in the Holy Land. It was to be a mission like no other before or since.
Paul left Corinth for Jerusalem. We are not told of any heavenly instruction, nor earthly persecution that caused him to leave. To our knowledge, he left calmly, at his own volition, in peace. It was so peaceful, in fact he took a couple of close friends with him. And after a brief stopover at Ephesus, where he preached and debated in the Synagogues for a short undefined length of time, he was actually asked to return by the Jewish contingent in the Synagogue. We read of that nowhere else. He left the city of Diana’s temple promising to come back, only if God would allow him to (Acts 18: 18 – 21).
After a brief, none eventful, coldly recorded visit to Jerusalem (suggesting that he was not too warmly welcomed), Paul then set off on what is commonly referred to as his “Third Missionary Journey” (Acts 18: 22 – 23). He went foraging in his unique evangelistic and church-building ministry, throughout Galatia, Phrygia and Asia and then … ultimately turned up at Ephesus.
As a vital, “By the way”, it is important to note here that there are around 19 references to Asia in the New testament, and it is assumed and confidently stated by all scholars and authorities on the subject, that the term very definitely refers to the Roman province which encapsulated the western section of the peninsula that we now refer to as Asia Minor. For those of you who are not au fait with historical geographical terminology, when reading the New Testament, just keep a mental note that when one reads, “Asia”, it really means “the western half of modern Turkey.” That whole area was under Roman rule and designated as a governmental province referred to as Asia. Ephesus was the capital city of that province.
Acts 19: 10 says he was there for two years, although in Acts 20: 31, Paul refers to his stay there as three years. Whatever the actual length of time and number of days, it was, as far as the book of Acts is concerned, his longest missionary effort in any one single place and was without doubt the most remarkable evangelistic mission since the Holy Spirit had fallen on the 120 in Acts chapter 2. Subtracting the first few months when he was debating in the Synagogues, it is safe to assume that Paul had, at an absolute minimum period, somewhere around twenty months with a daily 5 hour “service”, “debate” or, “meeting” at the school of one Tyrranus. It is this period of ministry that I refer to as Paul’s “Annus Mirabilis”.
If time machines ever get to be invented in my life time, this is one mission in a passage and parcel of time that I would pay a lot to visit, remain in the midst of, and be part of.
Acts chapters 19 and 20 are typically, biblically, brief and scanty with their explanatory remarks, yet supernaturally and paradoxically (as always), full and comprehensive in their significance. This is, I believe, the record of Paul’s later ministry, that when understood and emulated by men of apostolic stature, will undoubtedly change the world.
The mind boggles at the effort, the labour and the results as recorded. The secret of it all, I believe, was Paul’s management of his ministry in the realm of the miraculous. It was his understanding of, and fame within the unseen universe of the invisible that brought the great exploits to his hand. The power of God, in the wisdom given to him, gave the Apostle the right, to shout afterwards, with a cry of victory; “Ephesus is Taken!” So was the whole of Asia.
The depth and totality of the work accomplished by Paul in Ephesus, as well as rippling throughout the whole of Asia, was such that we know and can see that in the last book of the Bible, it was acknowledged in heaven as a work that was especially significant amongst the entire world-wide church at that time. I see it as if the entire life of Paul was a learning curve in lots of directions that led up to a period of ministry which by its shock and significance, changed the world at that time. Paul had seen the sick healed before, but not on the scale of Ephesus. He had cast out demons before, but seen nothing like the witches and Wizards that were delivered in the former “City of Diana of the Ephesians”. He had pointed out people from the crowd before and ministered to them by the leading of the Spirit, but not as intense as in Acts 19. It was such an incredibly solid and comprehensive time of church building, that when the Lord Jesus gave John the apocalyptic prophecy of the book of Revelation, he only addressed the main seven church centres that were created and established by Paul’s work in this particular mission, at this time. No other church was mentioned or acknowledged by the risen Christ as He stood amongst the candlesticks. In fact, no other candlesticks were referred to apart from those in Asia. We are talking of serious culture and population impact with the gospel that is second to none in history, with a depth of foundation laying, and an awesome height of people/church building, that I am convinced has been unparalleled since. We are examining a period of missionary work that had heaven’s stamp of approval like none other.
Follow me through the divinely prepared situation of Paul’s arrival at the capital and metropolis of Asia, the three years he laboured there, and the resulting outbreak of the Holy Spirit thereafter, and see if you agree with me, when I say that this section of scripture is the absolute peak of all known Apostolic ministry presented to us as a model to follow.
My prayer is that these pages may impact all that read them.