Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered October 3, 2009 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Truth or Consequences

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

(RealAudio available)

HOST (bold text): Welcome to TruthQuest Live! Iím your host, Tim Wade.

Todayís guest is someone Iíve always wanted to meet but I never really thought I would in this life. Heís a physician and a widely-read author. No doubt many of you have read some of his most popular books. How many here have read the book of Acts in the New Testament? Hey, thatís great.If youíve been listening to the latest news, youíve already heard . . . about the miraculous resurrection of Dr. Luke. And heís here with us today! All the way from the 1st century world of the Roman empire. Letís welcome Dr. Luke.Dr. Luke, itís an honor and a privilege to have you live on TruthQuest today. Thank you for coming.

LUKE (light text): Youíre welcome. Iím glad to be here.Itís really interesting, although I donít really much like these modern suits, the ties especially.

You were an eyewitness to many things that weíd like to hear about, but we only have a limited time today. So our focus today is on the truth about your experience with the apostle Paul on that trip to Corinth.Iíve read the story in Acts 18; and I wonder why the apostle Paul decided to go to Corinth at all. Wasnít Corinth quite a wicked place?

It sure did and I donít even know what possessed Paul to come to Corinth. After being at Athens and debating with the philosophers, it was a big change. Yes, Corinth was a demoralizing place. It raised eyebrows even among the heathen because of the gross immorality practiced there.It was said that the temple of the fertility cult there in Corinth had a thousand prostitutes.Corinth was to Greece what a lot of you people think of San Francisco or New Orleans these days.

Not where you want to hang out with your children.

Yeah, it was rough. But Paul forged on ahead.

What was it that kept Paul going?

Well he heard about a large congregation of Jews there in Corinth, but he was driven to go anywhere because of the cross of Jesus. Thatís what possessed him. Of course, he wanted to tell the Jews in Corinth about Jesus and the cross. But before I go any further, I need to put something into perspective for those of you in the 21st century, especially you church-goers.

Whatís that?

Calvaryís cross, in your day and age, has a lot of positive ideas connected with it. Itís wonderful to you, but it wasnít wonderful in our time. In our day, death by crucifixion was regarded as shameful, repulsive, horrifying. And to the Greeks, who believed in elevating the human race through science and philosophy, the idea of the Savior of mankind dying on a cross sounded absolutely ridiculous. And of course, the Jews naturally would think that dying on the cross was the curse of God. In their thinking, Godís Messiah couldnít possibly be crucified.

Thatís right. That even came from the Old Testament about being a curse, wasnít it?

Yes, thatís right.But to Paul, it was very, very different.The cross was everything to him.

Well, if, to your contemporaries, the cross was at best a horrifying torture tool; of course, to the Jews, it was the ultimate curse; why was the cross everything to Paul?

Well when he met Jesus on the Damascus road, that changed everything.He received a totally different picture of the cross. To him it was a revelation of the infinite love of God dying to save a lost world. Thatís when Paul found out through his own experience that when someone really takes notice of and absorbs the love of the Father, for what He is really like as lifted up through the cross, a transformation, a change of heart takes place.

So that was Paulís motivation for ministry? Is that what youíre telling us?

Yes! thatís what it was all about for Paul. He had this deep desire to help others see Jesus and to help others know both the love and power of God. And thatís what drove him. Proclaiming the Crucified Savior was everything to Paul. Even in wicked, corrupt Corinth.

Well that helps us understand what he was dealing with in terms of the image.That gives us a lot of perspective on what you and Paul were dealing with in your missionary efforts.How did Paul try to persuade the Jews?

Well, when he first got to Corinth, he could only attend the synagogue there in Corinth once a week.Every Sabbath he attended the synagogue and he gave them a Bible study from all the writings of Moses and the prophets. Of course, that was a lot of the Old Testament in those days.That was the Bible right there, and he backed up everything he said with the evidence from the Bible. And from those scriptures, he showed how Jesus died to bring men and women back to God. He showed them that Jesusí death was what all the sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed toward.

So on Sabbath he reasoned from the scriptures.Did he preach any other time beside Sabbath?

Well, not at first, but when Silas and Timothy and the rest of us joined him there in Corinth, with our support, then he was able to proclaim the love of Jesus through the cross, not just on Sabbaths, but every day of the week.

Besides reasoning from the Scriptures, another thing we do now is, sometimes someone will share a personal testimony of how they got to know Jesus and what Jesus means to them personally.Did Paul ever do that?

Oh, did he ever!He always gave his own personal testimony. He never got tired of telling the story of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus and how Jesus absolutely changed his life. And it was so clear to people that He loved Jesus, his crucified and risen Savior.

So how did people respond to Paulís personal testimony about Jesus?

It was moving to me every time I heard it. Paulís appeals were so strong and passionate, that only those who were the most bitter and most hateful could walk away without being moved.

Thatís beautiful.Tell you what, let me make that question more specific.In that Corinthian synagogue, how was his testimony received there?

Well, unfortunately, the story did not have a happy ending.At least, not yet. It seemed that the stronger and more passionate Paul got in his appeals, the more the influential Jews of that synagogue got stubborn, and they ended up resorting to brute violence, in fact.

What did they do?

Well, Paul was talking along and sharing his love of Jesus and everything about Jesus, when all of a sudden these loud, angry men stomped and crowded around Paul, interrupting him. Dust from the dirt floors was kicked up everywhere because of their stomping.

Quite a scene right in the worship service then, right?

Thatís right.It was right there, and they were pointing fingers at him and some were waving their fists, arguing with him. It looked like some were looking around for rocks or bricks, while others shouted at Paul, insulting him and yelling insulting things about Jesus.

That sounds pretty scary.Do you think his life was in danger?

I was afraid for Paul.I thought he was in real trouble. I feared for his life.

Well, according to the story, he was not killed at that time. What happened?How did that work out?

I donít know.I saw it with my own eyes and I still donít know how it happenedóhow God protected Paul. All I know is that all of a sudden, the angry mob just backed off and quieted down. Paul realized, of course, that he wasnít going to get any further with these Jews, so he decided he would have to go somewhere else, so he shook the dust off his clothes, and he told them, ďLook, youíre responsible for your own destructive disbelief. Iíve done my part, and from now on Iím going to the Gentiles.Ē And with that he marched safely right out of the synagogue and we all followed right after him.

And they let all of you go, just like that?After that scene.

Just like that.

So, where did you go? I think I would have found a safer place to live about that time.

Well, we didnít go very far.We went right next door to Titius Justusí house who was a Gentile who accepted Paulís testimony about Jesus. For a while there, we just turned Justusí house into another synagogue, because a lot of people, Jews and many more Greeks, kept coming and wanting to hear more. And many chose to believe.

Was that safe right next to that synagogue where youíd been attacked?The Jews must not have liked that. How did they respond to that?

They were exasperated and becoming more and more stubborn and more hateful. They began spreading lies and malicious rumors about Paul and the gospel that he preached. They rejected the truth about Jesus, they rejected the love of God and it was like a switch went off in their brains. They bitterly broadcast to anyone who would listen that Paul and the Jesus he preached about were of the devil.

You know, Dr. Luke, that really brings me to something that bothers me a lot, sometimes.Those people, Jesus was the One they needed most.What do you do?How do you reach someone when they are like that?

Well, good question.What can you do?Well, of course, we pray for them.As Christís followers, we respect their choice. We have no option but to let them go.Itís the kind of thing that Paul used to talk about a lot, that thatís what God does when people stubbornly refuse to listen to Him.He sadly goes on to someone else, leaving the rejecters of His truth to themselves. And there is nothing left to keep them from being more hateful and more selfish people.

Sounds like a dangerous condition.

Oh, it definitely was.

That must have been very discouraging, to you particularly, considering that was the initial focus of the missionary journey there.Were there some bright spots in the trip?Did anyone accept your message and receive Jesus and become baptized or anything like that?

Absolutely. Even Crispus, the ruler of the Jewish synagogue chose to believe. He and his whole family were baptized. Wow! We were thrilled. So there was a measure of success there in Corinth. And yet even after all those baptisms and the new church was established, Paul could not shake a bad feeling about being there in Corinth. He was disheartened by all the wickedness in corrupt Corinth, such depraved behavior there.And combined with the contempt and hatefulness of the Jews, he didnít feel good about staying there.So Paul told us that he was planning to go on to a more promising area.

So finally.I think I would have made that decision before the apostle Paul did, but I guess he was a better missionary.Where did you go?

When we woke up the next morning we could tell something had changed, because Paul had a big smile on his face. He told us to stop packing.

Oh really.What had changed?

He told us that the Lord had appeared to him in a vision the previous night and told him that we needed to stay there longer, and I said, ďBut Paul, arenít you worried about the threats to your life? What about the terrible wickedness?ĒAnd he said, ďNope, Iím not worried. The Lord told me that weíve got a lot more work to do here,ĎDonít be afraid,í the Lord said, Ďbut continue to speak here and donít be silent, because I am with you. No one will harm you, because I have many people in this city.í Ē

That really must have been encouraging. So what happened?

Yes, we were encouraged just when we needed it the most. We set up our gospel shop in Corinth and stayed a lot longer than we were planning. We stayed for another year and a half, teaching and preaching, all of us together.Of course, the apostle Paul was foremost in that, and we stayed there, and many more people joined.

Iím sure that the Jews hated every day Paul was around there in Corinth. Did they try anything else to oppose your work?

Oh yes, they did. When the Romans gave the region a new ruler, Gallio, the Jews figured that was their chance to do something and they devised something very devious.

What did they do?

They must have been watching Paulís routine and figured out when they could grab Paul by force, posse-style. With their strongest men, they dragged him down to the courthouse and brought a complaint against him to the new ruler. They were hoping to land Paul in jail, get him beaten and silence him, no doubt. When it all came down, word spread fast what had happened.We all anxiously ran down to the city hall to see what was happening to Paul, praying while we ran. (Talk about praying on the run!)There was already a crowd of Greeks surrounding the place. A lot of other city officials were interested to hear what was going on, too. It looked like the whole town was gathered there.

Dr. Luke, in our country we have freedom of religion. Why couldnít the Jews just let Paul preach whatever he wanted to, just not in their synagogue? Why didnít they just leave him alone?

Well, thatís what we wished, but we didnít get that.You see, in those days there wasnít really absolute religious freedom.In those days in the Roman empire, only approved religions could be followed. Anything else was illegal, and if you were caught teaching and preaching something that wasnít approved, then youíd get in trouble. The Jewish religion was tolerated and recognized by the Roman state.It was an approved religion.So if those devious Jews could somehow convince Gallio that Paul was not teaching according to Jewish belief, but something new and illegal, opposed to Judaism, then Paul could be thrown into jail.Or worse.

Well I can see how the whole outcome of that would depend on what kind of man this Roman ruler was.What was he like?

Well, we wondered that, too. Would he be hostile? Would he side with the Jews? Through the crowd we spotted Paul surrounded by this pack of Jews. And there was Sosthenes, the new ruler of the synagogue. He had taken Crispusí place. He was the spokesman for the accusers in this case.Pointing straight at Paul, Sosthenes spoke up loudly and boldly, ďYour honor, weíve brought this man to you today because he is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our religion, as recognized by the Romans. What heís doing is against the law.Ē

That sounds like a hard accusation to defend yourself against, because it sounds like heís saying, ďI accuse this man of disagreeing with me.ĒWhat could Paul say in response to that?

I wondered what Paul was going to say myself. No sooner had Paul opened his mouth to defend himself, then we heard someone else speak up. It was Gallio, the new proconsul. And let me tell you.He was not a man to be trifled with.

What did Gallio say?

Well, he didnít bother with Paul.He just looked right at Sosthenes and his angry henchmen, he said, ďIf this were a matter of some crime or serious piece of villainy, I would have been justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews, but since it concerns points of disagreement about words and names and your own law, settle it yourselves. I will not be a judge of these things!" (Acts 18:14, 15, NET)

That must have been embarrassing.

It was very embarrassing and didnít stop there.He motioned for his sheriffs and they threw Sosthenes and his fellows out of the courtroom, pushed them right out onto the street, leaving them baffled and angry like a pack of confused dogs.

Wow! That backfired on the Jews.

Yes! And thereís more.Up to that time, we didnít feel a grudge against the Jews who rejected the gospel.We felt sorry for them and we prayed for them.And now we felt even more pity. The street mob that was watchingóand maybe there were other government officials involved, tooóthey were fed up with the Jewish bigotry against Paul.

What did they do?

They all got rowdy, I mean REALLY rowdy, and began beating up Sosthenes. Poor man. And I thought, ďIf only he had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, he wouldnít have been in that position.Ē That beating was Sosthenesí immediate consequence for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.And furthermore, all the Jews of that synagogue that rejected Jesus, they got passed by for the Gentiles.That was their consequence.

ďPassed byĒ? What do you mean by the Jews getting passed by?

Thatís what Paul later pointed out in his letter to the church of Rome.God gives people chances. But when they reject the opportunities He gives them, when they refuse to trust Him and receive the revelation of His love through the cross, He stops pursuing them.God is a gentleman, you know. He doesnít force them or us. He canít force them, so He goes on to someone else. God has to let them go, because He respects our personal choice.You can read about it in Romans 1. Itís very clear.

Well, letís do that.I have a Bible here. So letís look at Romans 1 and see if we can find what youíre talking about.Verse 21.ď. . . although they knew God, they did not glorifyHim as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkenedĒ (NKJV).So is this what youíre talking about? Does this passage talk about God letting people go?

Yes, it does. Three times it says that God gave people up when they refused to listen to Him.

So it talks specifically about giving people up.Letís find that too.In verse 24 ďTherefore, God delivered them over in the cravings of their heart.ĒOk, hereís another one in verse 26, ďThis is why God delivered them over to degrading passions.ĒAnd then verse 28 looks like it has kind of a summary of everything youíre saying.Letís look at verse 28 here.ďAnd even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fittingĒ (NKJV).Is that what weíve been talking about.

Thatís exactly what weíre talking about, and it happened right here in Corinth, when the Jews did not receive the word about Jesus and what was the result? They resorted to violence and deception and slander. They eventually dragged Paul to court and pressed false charges against him. You see, when people reject the Spirit of God, there is nothing to prevent them from getting ugly and totally corrupted.

Nothing left to prevent them from self-destruction then , I guess.Not a pretty picture.Dr. Luke, thank you so much for helping us understand this story that you experienced personally so much better.One last question. After seeing all of these troubling events, how did all of this affect you personally?

I realized more than ever the significance of the good news. God has given us the medicine so we can be cured, and the big question is, will we take that medicine so we can be cured? Thatís the big question.

What is that medicine youíre talking?

Itís the message about Jesus Christ. In Christ is the fullness of God. Heís the cure. He is the truth.Heís the solution.Everything we need for life and health and peace.Receive Him into your life and He will heal you.

So the medicine to bring healing to our sick hearts and minds is accepting Jesus Christ?

Yes! And the reason is because in Jesusí birth, His life, teachings and ministry and in His death, and His resurrection, there is the life-changing, mind-altering, heart-softening truth about the infinite love of God for us.So if we just take it in to our lives and drink it in and absorb it into every fiber of our being and into every aspect of our thinking.

Itíll bring wholeness.

It absolutely will.So what we need to do is read about Him.Get to know Him.Accept Him as our Friend and then trust Him. Listen to Him and talk to Him. And then share Him with others. Then you will experience an ongoing transformation in your life, just like Paul did.†† Thatís what I want. Do you?

Absolutely, I think all of us here would like to do that.

Thank you for joining us on this little imaginative adventure of the apostle Paul in Acts, chapter 18.Letís sing our closing song, ďTurn Your Eyes Upon JesusĒ.

Gracious Father in heaven.We pray that our eyes may be fixed on Jesus always.That we may be healed and that we may share Him with others.In His name we pray.Amen.

 Hymn of Praise: #229, All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:22-24
Hymn of Response: #290, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 10/24/09