Sermon title: OUR FAITH IS BASED ON WRITTEN EYE-WITNESS RECORDS

Acts 21:1-9     Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, July 25, 2021

 

 

When we try to share with others

the wonderful hope we have from the Scriptures,

we’ll often hear them dismiss

the Bible as unreliable.

 

They’ll say the Bible is full of myths and folklore

passed on by word of mouth for centuries.

 

They’ll say the men who finally wrote these things down

either just gullibly believed the stories they heard,

or else made these stories up themselves.

 

Critics of Christianity accuse us of accepting

the oral traditions of illiterate people

passed on verbally from one generation to another

for hundreds of years before being written.

 

And that actually is the case

for some of the major religions of the world.

The four sacred Vedas of Hinduism were, indeed,

passed on orally for hundreds or thousands of years,

before ever being put down in writing.

 

And those same Hindu Vedas are also found

at the root of Buddhism,

although Buddhists view them differently.

 

Buddhism also has its own sacred texts,

the teachings of the Buddha,

that were also passed on by spoken word

for hundreds of years, by illiterate people,

before being written down.

 

But the Bible is not like that at all.

 

The Jews and the early Christians were literate.

 

They could read and write,

and it was eye-witnesses of Bible events

who wrote down the records of those events

that we have today.

Our belief in Christ is based on

factual accounts of actual events

that were recorded in writing by people

who were actually there,

and who wrote down what they saw

and heard and experienced.

 

Last week, when we discussed

the Apostle Paul’s parting words

to the elders of Ephesus,

the written record of what Paul said there

was recorded by a man who was there

and who heard Paul speak.

 

The Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke

were both written by a man named Luke

who was a medical doctor

and who was part of the Apostle Paul’s team.

 

Luke travelled with Paul on some of his journeys,

and stayed with Paul in some of the places

where he preached the Gospel.

In the 2nd letter Paul wrote to Timothy,

he listed some of the members of his team,

and where they were at that time,

and at 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul told Timothy,

 

“Only Luke is with me.

 

Get Mark and bring him with you,

because he is helpful to me

in my ministry.”

 

So, Luke was the only one of the ministry team,

actually present with Paul at that moment.

 

And, similarly, when Paul concluded his

Letter to the Colossians

with personal messages at the end,

he said at Colossians 4:14

 

“Our dear friend Luke, the doctor,

and Demas send greetings.

 

How do we know that Luke was also there with Paul

when the Apostle gave his parting words

to the elders of Ephesus

that we read in last week’s sermon?

 

We know Luke was there,

because of what he wrote next

as he began the 21st Chapter of Acts.

 

He wrote it all in the first person,

using the words “we” and “us”

because he was part of the team

traveling with Paul from Ephesus.

 

As I read, please notice how many times the words

“we” or “us” appear in these few verses.

 

You may even want to count them.

 

He begins after they had said their good-bye’s

to those elders in Ephesus.

 

He says,

 

1 After we had torn ourselves away

from them, we put out to sea

and sailed straight to Cos.

 

The next day we went to Rhodes

and from there to Patara.

 

2 We found a ship crossing over to 

Phoenicia, went on board and set sail.

 

3 After sighting Cyprus

and passing to the south of it,

we sailed on to Syria.

 

We landed at Tyre, where our ship

was to unload its cargo.

 

4 Finding the disciples there,

we stayed with them seven days.

 

Through the Spirit they urged Paul

not to go on to Jerusalem.

 

5 But when our time was up, we left

and continued on our way.

 

All the disciples and their wives

and children accompanied us

out of the city, and there on the beach

we knelt to pray.

 

6 After saying good-by to each other,

we went aboard the ship,

and they returned home.

 

7 We continued our voyage from Tyre

and landed at Ptolemais, where we

greeted the brothers and stayed

with them for a day.

 

8 Leaving the next day,

we reached Caesarea and stayed

at the house of Philip the evangelist,

one of the Seven.

I counted 12 “we”s, plus the use of

us,” “our” and “ourselves.”

 

So, Luke—who wrote the Book of Acts—

was with the Apostle Paul on those legs of his journey.

 

He began using the word “we” like that

in the 16th Chapter of Acts,

and continued through the end of Acts,

when Luke was caring for Paul

during his house-arrest in Rome.

 

As you read these chapters in Acts,

you find there are places where Luke says “we,”

as well as places where he says “they,”

because he wasn’t there at that point.

 

But he spent enough time actually with Paul,

for Paul to fill him in on what happened

during those other times.

 

And throughout his account of Paul’s travels,

Luke distinguishes between the times

when he was actually with Paul,

and when Paul went on without him.

 

You can see that, as you read,

by noticing whenever Luke switches between

using “we” and using “they” to describe the action.

 

But he was always catching up with Paul and the others,

to get filled in on what he had just missed.

--------------------------------------------

 

The most convincing evidence that Luke

wrote down this account

during the lifetime of the Apostle Paul

is the way he concludes the Book of Acts,

describing how Paul was kept prisoner,

under house arrest, in Rome.

 

The very last verse, Acts 28:30, says,

 

Paul stayed two whole years

in his own rented house,

and received all

who were coming to him,

31 preaching God’s Kingdom,

and teaching the things

concerning the Lord Jesus Christ

with all boldness, without hindrance.

 

That’s the end of the Book of Acts,

but it’s not the end of the Apostle Paul.

 

Later Christian writings that are not part of the Bible

tell how Paul won his appeal to Caesar

and was released from custody,

resuming his ministry and his travels.

 

Then, 5 or 6 years later, Paul was arrested again,

was kept in prison in Rome under harsh conditions,

and was finally executed by beheading.

 

If Luke had written the Book of Acts after Paul’s death,

he would certainly have included

these details of how Paul’s life ended.

 

Instead, the Book of Acts ends with Paul

still under house arrest in Rome—

years before his death.

 

This shows that Luke must

have finished writing at that time,

and copies of Acts began circulating

among the churches,

while the Apostle Paul was still alive.

 

Once copies were circulating,

it was too late for Luke to add additional chapters.

 

So, Luke was in position to write

reliable first-person testimony of his own

and to record the first-person testimony of others.

 

And the latter is what he did when writing Gospel of Luke

--he recorded the first-person testimony of others.

 

He traveled with the Apostle Paul for years

and spent time with Paul in Jerusalem

where the Apostles and early disciples were,

so Luke could interview them, too,

and base his Gospel account on their

first-person eye-witness testimony.

 

At Acts 21:17, Luke writes,

 

17 When we had come to Jerusalem,

the brothers received us gladly.

18 The day following,

Paul went in with us to James;

and all the elders were present.

 

So, Luke spent time in person with James,

with the church elders in Jerusalem,

and with others who had been with Jesus.

 

He was able to interview them in person,

and to make written notes of their testimony

about what they saw and heard from Jesus himself

during Jesus’ ministry among them.

 

Luke begins his Gospel at Luke 1:1 by saying,

 

1 Many have undertaken to compose

an account of the things

that have been fulfilled among us,

2 just as they were handed down to us

by the initial eyewitnesses

and servants of the word.

 

3 Therefore, having carefully

investigated everything

from the beginning,

it seemed good also to me

to write an orderly account . . .

 

So, Luke was personally present to see for himself

much of what he wrote about in the Book of Acts,

and for the rest of Acts and his Gospel of Luke,

he interviewed eyewitnesses.

 

We’ve already established that Luke wrote Acts

while Paul was still alive.

 

But we should mention that he wrote his Gospel of Luke

some time before he wrote Acts.

 

We know that because he started out Acts

by referring to his Gospel as “the first book I wrote”

with Acts being the second.

 

Those are two of the major New Testament books.

 

The Apostle John, who was with Jesus from the beginning,

authored five other New Testament books:

the Gospel of John,

the 3 letters 1st, 2nd and 3rd John,

and the Revelation or Apocalypse.

 

He, too, was an eyewitness of what he wrote.

 

And he begins his first letter at 1st John 1:1

by describing Jesus as someone he himself

had seen with his own eyes

and touched with his own hands.

 

He writes,

 

1 That which was from the beginning,

which we have heard,

which we have seen with our own eyes,

which we have gazed upon

and touched with our own hands—

this is the Word of life.

 

2 And this is the life

that was revealed;

we have seen it and testified to it,

and we proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father

and was revealed to us.

 

3 We proclaim to you what we have seen

and heard, so that you also

may have fellowship with us.

And this fellowship of ours

is with the Father and with His Son,

Jesus Christ. 

 

So, John’s Gospel is not a second- or third-hand account.

 

It is the written account of an actual eyewitness.

 

John spent years with Jesus, watching him,

listening to him, and even touching him.

 

And toward the end of his Gospel of John,

he says at John 21:24,

 

This is the disciple

who testifies to these things

and who has written them down.

 

So, John wrote as an eyewitness

who actually saw and heard and participated in

the events recorded in that Gospel.

 

The Gospel of John was not passed on orally

and written down centuries later.

 

It was penned by John himself,

who said,

This is the disciple

who testifies to these things

and who has written them down.

 

Peter, too, who authored 2 New Testament books—

1st and 2nd Peter—

was an eyewitness to what he wrote.

 

He saw it with his own eyes.

 

So, Peter says at 2nd Peter 1:16,

 

“For we were not

making up clever stories

when we told you about

the powerful coming

of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

We saw his majestic splendor

with our own eyes.”

 

Again, we don’t have a story passed on

by oral tradition for hundreds of years,

but, rather, we have first-hand testimony

written down by the person who saw it

with his own eyes.

--------------------------------

 

Now, we’ve seen that to be true, so far, for

9 out of the 27 books of the New Testament:

the Gospel of Luke,

the Gospel of John,

the Acts of the Apostles,

1st Peter and 2nd Peter,

1st, 2nd and 3rd John

and the Revelation or Apocalypse.

 

All of them were first-hand accounts,

written down by eye-witnesses—

not passed on as oral tradition.

But, what about the remaining 18 in the New Testament?

 

13 of those are letters from the Apostle Paul

to individualsTimothy, Titus and Philemon—

or to churches in different cities.

 

Those letters were dictated by Paul

to various different secretaries

who took his dictation and wrote in his presence.

 

In many of his letters the secretary

is named in the opening verses.

 

For example, he begins his 1st Letter to the Corinthians

by saying,

Paul, called to be an apostle

of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

and our brother Sosthenes,

To  the  church  of  God  in  Corinth,

 

So, Sosthenes was the secretary

taking Paul’s dictation for that letter.

 

Even though Paul did not write it down himself,

we have the name of the person who did,

and he wrote it right then—as Paul dictated it—

not hundreds of years later.

 

But, in each letter, Paul added a few words

in his own handwriting

to prove the authenticity of his letters

to recipients who would recognize his signature.

 

For example, at 2nd Thessalonians 3:17,

we find these words:

 

I, Paul, write this greeting

in my own hand,

which is the distinguishing mark

in all my letters.

This is how I write.

 

So, even though he dictated his letters to secretaries,

Paul always included a greeting

in his own handwriting,

to prove the letter was really from him.

 

At Galatians 6:11 he noted how different

his handwriting was from his secretary’s.  He wrote,

 

You can see what big letters I make

when I write with my own hand.

 

So, Paul’s 13 letters in the New Testament

were all written under Paul’s direct dictation

with his own hand-written seal of approval.

 

He concluded his letter to the Colossians by saying,

 

Here is my greeting

in my own handwriting—Paul.

 

And 2 verses before that, he wrote,

 

After this letter has been read to you,

see that it is also read

in the church of the Laodiceans

and that you in turn read

the letter from Laodicea.

 

So, copies of Paul’s letters were already circulating

among the churches while Paul was still alive.

 

That is another proof

that they were not written hundreds of years later

as critics of the Bible like to say.

 

In fact, Paul’s letters were already circulating

when the Apostle Peter wrote his 2nd Letter.

 

We know that, because Peter wrote about Paul’s letters.

 

Peter wrote at 2 Peter 3:14,

 

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience

means salvation, just as our dear

brother Paul also wrote you

with the wisdom that God gave him.

 

He writes the same way

in all his letters,

speaking in them of these matters.

 

His letters contain some things

that are hard to understand,

which ignorant and unstable people

distort,

as they do the other Scriptures,

to their own destruction.

 

So, Peter is a witness that Paul’s letters

were actually produced by Paul

and that copies of them

were already circulating among the churches.

---------------------------

 

All of this goes to show that the critics are wrong.

 

Those who say that we follow a Gospel message

that was passed on through oral tradition

for hundreds of years,

before it was written down—

they don’t know what they are talking about.

 

The message about Jesus and his Apostles

was written down immediately

by eyewitnesses who were actually there

and who saw and heard

the things they testify about.

 

So, our faith in Christ is built on a solid foundation—

not myths or fairytales or folklore,

but factual history

recorded by reliable witnesses.

 

And, when we share the Gospel with others

and invite them to believe,

we can show them that it is not blind faith

in a story that someone made up,

but solid faith in a real Christ—

 

a Savior who really lived and did all these things

that are recorded in the Scriptures,

 

a real Christ the King whose promise to come again

was recorded by eyewitnesses.