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Post Tenebras Lux — Darkness in the Rear View

“Post Tenebras Lux” means “After Darkness Light” which described the steady change from early times to the middle ages when the light of the gospel shone forth after such dark times. This became known as the Protestant Reformation. It was when the question of salvation was answered: how is a man saved by works or by God’s Word alone and Grace alone through Faith alone. A true celebration of the Protestant Reformation puts darkness in the rearview, while increasingly applying the light of the gospel to all of life.

On October 31st each year is the secular holiday called Halloween. The celebration of Halloween is one of the oldest holiday around for many centuries. The reason why this event was celebrated in its origin of All Saints Day, the night before called All Hallows Eve (or the night before All Saints Day). The reason why the custom of dressing up as devils and goblins and things was that in the middle ages they believed the best way to drive Satan away was to mock him because he was proud (his point of vulnerability) and it was the example of the saints to do so, using the Scripture “Resist Satan and he will flee from you.” But we know that the Bible says that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, as someone who appears good and inviting to people, but deceives them. The point of halloween however was to mock Satan as a strategy of spiritual warfare and to exalt the saints whom the Roman Catholic church worshipped.

Beginning with Luther, the Protestant Reformation began to demolish the superstitions of Halloween and every other knock in the night. The more the light of the gospel shown, the less superstitious and fixated on fighting evil with evil the church became. Instead, the church began to see [clearly again] that God is to be feared, and evil is to be overcome with light.

Martin Luther himself was plagued with superstitions developed in his life by the Roman Catholic church. His conversion experience was one of praying to a saint named Anne out of fear of destruction in a thunderstorm. He pledged himself to enter a monastery and become a monk. God brought the gospel to him through the study of the Scriptures in their original language, and the rest is history.

In Rome developed something called “Sacerdotalism” which means salvation is accomplished through the priesthood and the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. This is what brought darkness over the light of the gospel temporarily in history.

John Hus, may be argued to be the true beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther was buried over the grave of the bishop who condemned Hus. Hus said prophetically (if you will) that “you can burn this goose but there will come after me a swan whom you cannot silence.” Luther was welcomed as the prophetic fulfillment of the Swan that would come.

The irony was that when Luther presented himself for ordination, and laid himself on the ground outstretched, and in the chapel under the very stones, was the bishop that condemned Hus. Sproul likes to think that the bishop said to Hus when he gave his prophecy, he said “over my dead body!” And indeed the swan came and laid right over it!

As reformed Christians we can say that we live Post Tenebras Lux, After Darkness Light! We live increasingly in the Light, and Darkness is more and more in our rear view or perhaps we might say—being continually placed under our feet by grace. The Christian life as a reformed Christian should more and more loosen itself from the plague of superstitions, darkness, ghouls and goblins, to cling to and shine the light of the gospel upon every known sphere of life. In this way, let darkness be in the rear view, post tenebras lux!

car on road during sunset
Photo by Tobias on Unsplash

The God Who Builds Much Farther (Acts 20:13–38)

In Matthew 24 the temple in Jerusalem was said to come to an end, but there is every indication that God would build farther than the temple.

We have in this passage of Scripture the truth that God built his church farther than the life of the apostle Paul through his spiritual investment in the lives of others which included: (1) a sufficient example to get ; (2) a Spiritual call to guard; (3) a steadfast confidence to glory. These three elements are those things through which the church was and will be built farther than the temple in Jerusalem, and the apostolic times to the end, and even our own lives today.

A Sufficient Example to Get (vv.13–27)

God gave his church a sufficient example in the apostle Paul that he would build much farther. His sufficiency is of course founded in Christ’s all-sufficiency. His life and ministry imitated the life and ministry of Jesus, especially in his intent to go to Jerusalem to suffer, and not delay it any longer. We see this in the preliminary words of vv.13–16 where the mystery is that of why Paul did not go to Ephesus but rather called the elders to him at Miletus. It is stated that he wanted to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost (v.16). We can say that he was on God’s timetable and specially informed (like a prophet) of the need to be there at this time. When they are called to his side, he informs them of what they “know” about his life and ministry in vv.17–28. His service to God was one that did not shrink back from declaring anything that would be profitable to them (v.20). He did this both from what we may consider a pulpit ministry but also from house to house, so that in our language we may say the sofa was just as holy as the pulpit if it was occupied with Paul’s profitable teaching. His doing so did the same for Jews and for Greeks (v.21) telling them the same message that is encapsulated in the words “faith and repentance.” These two are called twin sisters by some, married by others. Biblically you cannot have one apart from the other. Where there is faith, there is repentance; and where there is repentance of this kind, there is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (v.21b). They knew his life was controlled by the Spirit of God as he went out not knowing (like Abraham) to face only what the Spirit revealed to him would involve suffering. This history contains the passion of Paul that imitates the passion of our Lord. It is a reverse prophecy if you will; a prophecy that demonstrates the ministry of our Lord in the past, by one’s life in the present. Like his Lord he does not account his life of any value, nor precious to himself, except that he finishes his course and ministry that he received from the Lord Jesus Christ (v.24). He is said to testify of the gospel of the grace of God (v.24) and to proclaim the kingdom (25); which if coupled with his statement of repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (v.21) and the words which follow in v.27 “declaring the whole counsel of God” gives us a comprehensive message that he served these elders with. W. Robert Godfrey says the “whole counsel of God” is talking about God’s eternal counsels or counsels in eternity. We see this is right because the grace, the kingdom (related to eternal covenant), and the gifts of faith and repentance all tell us of the same message he was preaching accompanied by the prophetic life he was living. He was bringing light to the gentiles and hope to Israel by virtue of unveiling the sovereign plan of God to the whole world. He teaches us that God builds his church farther than our own lives by virtue of not shrinking back from the doctrines of grace, the very sovereign principles elucidated in Ephesians 1, showing the plan revealed from eternity to save sinners in time by the work of Christ and the application and giving of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is a work entirely of the Lord, and because the apostle did shrink back on this, the church was built farther than his own life and ministry. Paul made sure these elders got this by saying in different phrases the same thing and recalling his example that lived according to God’s sovereign will on earth. He makes this a priority and a basis for the elders whom he is leaving. The elders are of course those who teach in the church and have declarative authority over the congregation. What would you leave such a group with? What would you point to in order to make sure they would build farther than your life? The apostle, led by the Spirit of God, underscores in both faith and practice the doctrines of God’s grace to the renown of God’s only Son.

A Spiritual Call to Guard (vv.28–31)

But the doctrines of grace are not sufficient to merely know from another, they must be imbibed and lived out in their own lives. So, Paul charges these elders in their Spiritual work, origin of this work, basis of this work, and dangers of it. But note it is a Spiritual Call to Guard. The work itself involves a two-fold matter of careful attention to themselves and to all the flock (v.28a). This again is how Paul speaks of faith and repentance, inseparable yet distinct things that where you have the one you have the other genuinely speaking (remember v.21). The elders must be watching their own lives and also must be watching the flock. The word overseer speaks of an inspector, someone who is a watchman over people. And the apostle says the first person you are to be a watchman over is yourself. As Chesterton says to the question, what is wrong with the world? I am. The implication of this is that when an elder stops caring for the flock it is first because he stopped caring for his own soul. An elder is one who is mature in the faith. But where does this maturity derive from? We see next the origin of this Spiritual Calling is the Holy Spirit (v.28b). God is the one who creates elders in the church. He gives them (cf. Ephesians 4) for the stability of the church and protection from false doctrine and fickle ways. No church can create elders, only God can create elders. Then we have the reason for their Spiritual Call in v.28c “to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood.” The word “care” is a word from which we get our word for “pastor” which means to feed or more broadly to shepherd. Sheep need a shepherd, and he has created in the churches elders to carry out this work because it is needed for those for whom Christ died. The apostle speaks of God bleeding to purchase this body in the world. God of course cannot bleed except by the incarnation of his unique distinct glorious only Son, our Lord. This is then a statement that Jesus Christ is God. And that is the reason ultimately for the Spiritual Call of elders. Let us not stop caring for the church of God knowing the price that our Lord paid to secure the church. Lastly under this heading there is the danger that required this Spiritual Calling. There needed to be Spiritual men to face the dangers that were approaching the church from the inside out (vv.29–30). These dangers came in the form of doctrinal heresy as we see the method of these false teachers was “speaking twisted things.” And the intent of these within the church who pretended to be shepherds sought to gain men after themselves. Calvin rightly says that “Christ hath no disciples where he is not counted the only Master.” There needs to be elders who point to Christ and defend the flock against false teaching by means of careful watch on themselves and their congregation. The imminent danger demands it. And our Lord deserves the service for his purchase of the church we are entrusted, so the building goes much farther than Paul and any others ministering in any time of history.

A Steadfast Confidence to Glory (vv.32–38)

There is still more to be assured that the church will be built much farther than the  temple, Paul, or even our own lives. It is demonstrated in the apostle’s steadfast confidence in God. In v.32 he commends them to God and the word of his grace, which is able to (Calvin’s translation) “build farther.” It is to God and his eternal counsels of grace that Paul is looking, not to the abilities of the elders for future hope of the church at Ephesus. And unfortunately there has been a false story spread about Ephesus, of some who stop merely at the church that at one time lost their first love (Rev 2) are not told about how the same church (According to Ignatius in the 2nd Century) recovered from the heresy that filled it. And this likely to the words of Paul’s instructions here  (Cf. Sproul’s commentary) by Sufficient example, Spiritual calling, and Steadfast confidence. But there are some specifics to Paul’s confidence that must be noted here. The first is that he reminds them of his voluntary work to give his life for the church. This same thing is called to mind with Christ’s words “It is more blessed to give than to receive”; I think because Paul (or at least the Spirit) anticipated that elders would grow careless of themselves and others, and need a reminder that in regards to salvation, as great as it is to receive it, it is even more glorious to give it! This is God’s doing alone, but he shares a sense of this by calling men into service of elders to give men this salvation by preaching the Word of His Grace. So, Paul’s confidence is in the gospel and God, so he reminds them of God the giver of all things that caused him to give up his rights for support in some places in order to make sure the churches would support men like him later. We see how the church was built farther than the apostle Paul by the fact that the pastors and elders appointed in the churches rightly made their living from the gospel. Timothy’s ministry and others that have followed him were built much farther because this apostle got on his knees and prayed for the church, just like his Lord prayed for all believers to come including his own disciples (John 17; Acts 20:36ff). It is clear that these elders loved the one who trained them for the ministry (v.37). They would go with him as far as they could, like Elisha accompanied Elijah until the chariot of fire came! (v.38). And of course that just proves the point again, God built his church farther than the temple, and Paul, and he will build his church farther than us, We have this in Paul’s Sufficient Example; the Spiritual Calling he gave to the elders; and this Steadfast Confidence he had in God. The Lord be praised! Amen.

See sermon preached on this at https://tinysa.com/sermon/91023153246178


The Church Greatly Encouraged (Acts 20:1–12)

The Church is greatly encouraged so as to overcome the world, by looking beyond the crises in this world to the Lord through His Word, Witnesses, and Worship. 

Encouragement is a basic human necessity so as to act in any way that is good. We, naturally being full of idols, will do nothing within or without except that we be encouraged; let alone conquer the world! To be encouraged speaks of being built up, and remains a large part of what it means to minister the gospel. It is for the glory of the Lord and the building up or encouragement of the church we exist. Encouragement is the very thing that God gave Joshua to conquer the land; and encouragement is the thing that was given here to Paul and the church to conquer the world within and without. However, we are often prone (I speak of my own weakness) to assume the worst rather than the best in people. Perhaps this is because of the overemphasis of the T (Total Depravity) is T.U.L.I.P. rather than realizing the U.L.I.P. (Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints) is the overcoming of the T! And thus requires encouragement, and is the very base potion of encouragement in the deep magic (the gospel) of God. It is not just encouragement, but gospel encouragement. The good news that triune God has come to be with men by His Son and by His Spirit.

I had only been outside my own country once, and for a very short time, but in that time I found the universal need of those that I preached to was the same that I needed along the way, and that was encouragement. So, it is keeping with both the logos as well as wit the experience of life that this thing called encouragement stands as a vital necessity in the Christian church. It is the desire of our God to greatly encourage the church, Christ’s lovely bride, to wash her with His Word and dress her with robes of righteousness and fill her with good tidings within and forever increasing.

Our text before us occurs after an uproar v.1; and in v.3 and v. 9b with other crises; and thus is the perfect occasion for such a subject like encouragement. Correspondingly, we find “encouragement” explicitly repeated in vv.1, 2, 12 (translated “comforted” in the last phrase). We know that this text is about encouragement up and over against crises. And knowing this, as cute as it may seem to some to make sermons on not sleeping in church may be, we must not get distracted with the account of Eutychus (or any other crises). The reality is that Luke is very explicit in his intention in this text. He is giving the church then and for all time to the very end a recipe for great encouragement, or to put it negatively, a remedy to the ills of discouragement. What then are the elements necessary for the church to be greatly encouraged in a world with crises? Dr. Luke tells us as follows.

The Cordial of Much Word

The first tonic or cordial is that of the Word. If we are to be greatly encouraged, we need to be greatly instructed with the Word. The second verse says literally “had given them encouragement with much Word.” The word for encouragement in vv.1, 2, 12 is parakaleo, which is related to paraklete, from which we get that name for Advocate, Helper, Comforter, the Holy Spirit. It is what Jesus was, an Advocate, so the Spirit is another advocate or helper. And the Apostles serve to be filled with God’s Spirit to do this ministry of the Word to encourage us. If we wish to have little encouragement, then we should have little of the Word. So, if we are to have great encouragement or be greatly encouraged, we need much Word! Romans 15:4 is a good parallel, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

The Cordial of Mighty Witnesses

There is a second cordial to take from Dr. Luke if we are to be greatly encouraged. It appears in more of the form of an example in vv.3–6. The occasion again is opposite of comfort (Cf. v.1a). the occasion is a plot was made against Paul by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria. The result is he literally “was possessed of a decision to return through Macedonia” (v.3b). Then comes the remedy to the occasion of the plot in v.3 in practical terms—seven men are placed beside him and Luke, who serve at least three purposes. First, they were a delegation from all the churches in these places to bring a contribution to Jerusalem. Romans was written at this time, and the fifteenth chapter bears witness to the matter of the offering being gathered. These men were sent by the churches to accompany Paul at least for this purpose. Second, they might serve to remove any jealousies of the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers, providing unity for the church. These men are named from all different areas and thus serve a unifying purpose. Third, they are sent for some protection of Paul not only bodily but spiritually to encourage him. Though they go on ahead of him and Luke at one point, they were present at least to be of help to Paul in these ways. The minister also needs great encouragement by means of mighty witnesses. These mighty witnesses are named, and in some cases appear in other parts of Scripture. It is clear something of significance is occurring here, and though there is no explicit statement, we can see by inference that these men must be mighty witnesses to be sent on such a mission for these purposes. If we want to remain discouraged about life and ministry, just go without training men and sending men on missions to do something good for the Lord. We will be as encouraged as we raise up by God’s grace, mighty witnesses to be of encouragement to the minsters of the Word; to assist the ministers of the Word in mercy work; to unify; to protect them even by means of encouraging their souls. And though Paul was indeed able to be encouraged without them because the Lord stands beside him, he is greatly encouraged when he has such people alongside of him.

The Cordial of Marvelous Worship

There is then a last necessary means to greatly encouraging the church of God in every place in all times. This occurs in vv.7–12. We can see that once we know what Luke is doing we will not be distracted by crises that can form an alternative message that is not intended by Luke. The message is one of greatly encouraging the church. And in order to teach this lesson, Luke puts a big distraction, a potential hindrance to the encouragement of the church before them and us. He has been doing this already in the form of the uproar in v.1, the plot in v.3b, and now does so in the form of a boy falling out the window of their meeting place. What could have stopped the goal of greatly building up the church more more than a man falling out the window (literally wind door; a place for the breeze to enter and fill the room), and falling dead? This account is putting before us a great obstacle to the advance of the kingdom just as we have seen in the past in the form of an uproar (v.1) or a plot (v.3); and now here Satan seeks to stop the kingdom from progressing by killing a young boy (v.12 indicates his age of approximately between 8–11 years of age, a youth) in the congregation over a long discourse. How Satan would be pleased to find anything he can to destroy and link it to Scripture discourse and worship so as to discourage the church and keep her from experiencing marvelous worship that encourages them all greatly! Well, what is here that makes the worship marvelous up beyond this attack? We see first the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, is here set by apostolic example for the church going forward for worship. There is now a distinct day on which the Christian church worships going forward from this point that contributes to their encouragement. We know it is for worship because they are gathered to in the form of synecdoche “break bread.” This speaks of Communion or the Lord’s Supper which occurs at the end in spite of the boy falling out the window dead. If the boy was not raised here, there would be many excuses to give up this day. But God put his seal on it with a resurrection and with much comfort. Another item is that of the sermon. The word “talked” and “speech” in v.7 refers to a sermon. In fact the word for “speech” in the latin is sermonem from which we get our word sermon. It was of course a long sermon, but again, if they would be greatly encouraged they need much Word (see point 1). This does not argue for long sermons, but simply for adequate sermons appropriate to the occasion. In this case, Paul was spending the evening onward giving them all the encouragement he could must by preaching a sermon on the Lord’s Day with a goal toward Communion or Lord’s Supper. They would not see him for long and so the occasion required length. There is another key element in marvelous worship, and that is the end goal they gathered for, Communion or Lord’s Supper. After the boy had been raised, the meeting was not cancelled, but lengthened! He goes on to daybreak, but not just goes on, but resumes the service with the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s Supper indicates a continuation of encouragement. The result is put in terms of Litote, they were not a little comforted, that is, they were greatly encouraged!


Thus we see that Luke as a physician of the soul gives us a clear remedy that goes beyond uproars, plots, and interruptions, namely—much Word, mighty witnesses or companions, and marvelous worship. That last item of marvelous worship is worship that makes one marvel at the fact that the Kingdom advances against all odds and and leaves the church full of encouragement beyond the crises they experience in this world. This can only come by the Spirit, the great paraklete, comforter, helper, advocate, encourager who entered this world in the apostolic times in a deep and miraculous way because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is God’s intent to not only to found his church, but fill his church by building her up greatly. May the Church thus in all times and places be greatly encouraged with much Word, mighty witnesses (or workers with the pastor), and marvelous worship (as prescribed by Luke here). May the Church especially get the message here to look beyond the crises to those things which God has ordained to give them much encouragement. The Church then, we learn, is greatly encouraged so as to overcome the world, by looking beyond the crises in this world to the Lord through His Word, Witnesses, and Worship. Amen and glory and praise be to our God and Savior Jesus Christ!


Paul’s Imitative Journey of Christ by God’s Sovereignty

Stott points out what I have heard others also say, namely that the ministry of the apostles often replicates the ministry of their Lord. In Acts 20 this fact shines forth in Luke’s writing of the apostle Paul:

“it is hard to resist the conclusion that Luke sees a parallel between Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which is prominent in his first volume, and Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, which he describes in his second. Of course the resemblance is far from being exact, and the mission of Jesus was unique; yet the correspondence between the two journeys seems too close to be a coincidence. (i) Like Jesus, Paul travelled to Jerusalem with a group of his disciples (20:4ff.). (ii) Like Jesus he was opposed by hostile Jews who plotted against his life (20:3, 19). (iii) Like Jesus he made or received three successive predictions of his ‘passion’ or sufferings (20:22–23; 21:4, 11) including his being handed over to the Gentiles (21:11). (iv) Like Jesus he declared his readiness to lay down his life (20:24; 21:13). 5 (v) Like Jesus he was determined to complete his ministry and not be deflected from it (20:24; 21:13). 6 (vi) Like Jesus he expressed his abandonment to the will of God (21:14). Even if some of these details are not to be pressed, Luke surely intends his readers to envisage Paul as following in his Master’s footsteps when he ‘steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem’.”

Excerpt From The Message of Acts by John Stott


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