Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Gary Petty] That those who followed The Way, once they accepted Jesus as the biblical Messiah, passionately rejected the concepts and practices of religions not based on the Bible. Now listen to this. Paganism is inclusive. The Way is not.
[Narrator] Join our presenters from the United Church of God as we bring you help for today and hope for tomorrow directly from your Bible, here on Beyond Today.
[Gary Petty] Today you will hear a message that you've actually never heard before, a message that can change your life as you discover and follow what the earliest Christians, what they called The Way. The first Christians had a definite message that they shared with others, and it was a message that was so different from the religious beliefs of the society around them that they were accused of turning the world upside down. How did they turn the world upside down? You know, we're going to look at a biblical story of how in one ancient city the Christian messaged caused people to burn books about practicing magic and almost started a riot. Now, if you identify as a Christian, as we look at this fascinating story, you need to seriously ask yourself a question. Does this same message burn in my heart and guide my life? Has God turned my life right side up? And am I serving Him by turning the world upside down?
Now this journey will be shocking to many of you because as we look at the New Testament, we will discover teachings that have been lost in today's Christianity. The Way, what it’s called in the Bible, is an all-encompassing life-changing dedication to the reality that you were created to be a child of God. And that reality can only happen in your life through the authentic gospel.
Now we'll begin our journey of discovering the ancient city of Ephesus. Okay, that's where we're going to start. The Apostle Paul, the man responsible for spreading Christianity through many areas of the Roman Empire, traveled to the city of Ephesus. Now the ruins of that city are in Turkey today, modern day Turkey. Ephesus was one of the largest and most influential cities of the Roman world with a population of over a quarter of a million people. I know that doesn't seem like a large population today, but in the first century, a quarter of a million people made it one of the largest cities in the world. It was a provincial capital, a major seaport, a trade center, a wealthy city where the cultures and wonders of the European continent and the Asian continent met and mingled together. When Paul first came to Ephesus, he began to teach The Way in the Jewish synagogue.
To really understand what the first Christians called The Way, you have to recognize something. For them, there were only two kinds of religion. Judaism, which was believed, believed in the God of the Hebrew scriptures. And every other religion, every other religion was considered idolatry and demonic. The earliest Christians followed the same God as the Jews and were considered at first to be a Jewish sect. But the Christians had a new message and it was turning Judaism on its head. The Hebrew scriptures prophesied a Messiah who would be sent to gather all the peoples to the one true God. Paul and the other apostles proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth is that prophesied Messiah. Some Jews in Ephesus believed. Many didn't. And after three months, Paul left the synagogue and established a teaching center for both Jews and non-Jews. A place for those who accepted The Way.
You know what we're talking about today is a lot more important than just a story from ancient history. Just like those earliest Christians in Ephesus, living The Way is going to turn your life right side up while you're going to turn the world around you upside down. As we continue, you're going to have to answer a question. You're going to have to answer this question inside your life. Are you willing to take this spiritual journey? Are you willing to sort through all the clutter in today's fragmented Christian message where we hear all kinds of things like the health and wealth gospel. This is real popular, disobey God and everything will be good in your life. You'll get gifts and lots of money and have perfect health. There's the LGBTQ gospel which is spreading through Christianity today. How about the always lead to the same God gospel or the entertainment gospel which really much of the time doesn't contain anything about the gospel. Just a few words.
Are you willing to search for the authentic gospel of the first Christians and discover what they called The Way? And when you do, you can experience the same transformation that they experienced. And you will find you're going to find God's purpose for your life, why you were created while you're here. But I’ve got to warn you it comes at a cost because the original way will challenge many common and cherished Christian beliefs.
Now let's go back to Paul in Ephesus. After setting up his teaching center, Paul began to attract non-Jews who were pagans. Now, paganism is a general word for religions that don't accept the God of the Bible. Paganism in the first century Roman world was very inclusive. All gods and goddesses were accepted. All religious beliefs were considered equal. With its emphasis on elaborate rituals, exotic temples, participants felt very, very spiritual in what they participated in. For pagans, the spirit world was everywhere and in everything. Life was guided by the stars. The fireplace was decorated with statues in people's homes of dead relatives who you could contact for help. And ritualistic magic was the key to contacting the gods and goddesses and all the spirits. As Paul explained The Way, some of these pagans began to accept and respond, they began to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to the true God. Jews and non-Jews now united in their belief and became The Way. And here's what happened.
We're going to go to Acts chapter 19. Acts chapter 19, and when the program's done, when you're finished watching this, get a Bible go to Acts 18, read the whole story. It's a fascinating story and there's all kind of details we're not going to be able to cover today. But let's read this little section here. It says, in many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds, and also many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all, and they counted up the value of them and it totaled 50,000 pieces of silver.
So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. Notice how The Way changed their lives. The pagans who believed enthusiastically burned their books containing incantations to the spirits and magic spells and rituals. Now it says what they burned was worth 50,000 pieces of silver. And there's some debate. And today, you know, when you look at historians which coin, which Roman coin was this. But whatever it was, these scrolls, these books were worth a fortune.
You need to understand the impact of this event. Have you ever heard the phrase burning your bridges behind you to mean that someone is doing something, they're taking an action that won't allow them to go back, right? They're burning their bridges behind them. The burning of these books wasn't just an open rejection of one of the pagan religions. It meant walking away from all religions that didn't accept the God of the Bible. They were declaring that there was no way for them to go back once they started The Way. Now notice these earliest Christians didn't burn their neighbor's books or attack libraries. They burned their own books. They considered the spiritual information, what they considered spiritual pagans, in these books to be worthless and evil and they destroyed them. Okay, what does this ancient story mean to you? Right? What does this mean to you? Well, obviously I'm not encouraging everyone to go out and participate in book burnings, okay? That's not the point. What we're learning from this story is that those who followed The Way, once they accept that Jesus as the biblical Messiah, passionately rejected the concepts and practices of religions not based on the Bible.
Now listen to this. Paganism is inclusive, The Way is not. But you're a Christian, right? You don't participate in paganism. Are you sure? Let's just look at one example. How about Halloween? It's just a harmless children's party, right? Is it? Halloween traces its origins to All Souls Day, a medieval Catholic day honoring the dead. In many churches today, it's still considered a religious holiday. It is tied to the practice of praying to saints in heaven, a custom that denigrates the New Testament teaching that Jesus Christ is the only intercessor between us and God.
I want you to do something with me. I want you to play along today. I want you to use your imagination. Put yourself into the ancient world of Ephesus if you can. Think about a world you live in where you worship Zeus and Artemis also known as Diana among the Romans. You lived in a city where temples were dedicated all over the place to god's and goddesses. You were very superstitious. You worried about evil spirits all the time. You participated in magic and casting of spells. And you would go to the temples where they would gut animals and the priests would bring out the entrails and bring you the message from the gods. Now, think of the people in that environment who turned to the God of the Bible and accepted Jesus as the Son of God. They left all that behind them. I mean, they burned their bridges, right? They rejected it as false and evil. And think about how it changed their lives by turning the world upside down. They would've lost friends, business contacts, maybe a job. And we will see that they were persecuted for following The Way.
Now in this flight of imagination I want you to do one more thing. I want you to think of one of those people from that time, those earliest Christians who followed The Way. And I want you to bring them right now into our world. You had lived as a pagan, converted to The Way and now you get to see how Christians worship today. How would they respond to dressing up as a child as the Germanic hammer wielding Thor, right? Or a zombie, or a witch doing trick or treat on a day that so many people also go to church to somehow honor God and Jesus Christ? And I know Halloween may seem trivial, but you know one of the things we learn is that the earliest Christians, because of what Jesus and the apostles taught, would not accept pagan worship as part of their worship of God. And you know what, you can figure this out. Every aspect of Halloween is rooted in paganism. There's no connection to true Christianity because those who followed The Way left paganism. Today's Halloween, would be absolutely intolerable to them. So how can Christians today tolerate bringing paganism back into The Way? They left that to enter The Way and Christianity today is taking those very things and putting them back into The Way. How can that be tolerated? And you know, the truth is that the most cherished holidays, Easter and Christmas, are also rooted in paganism and given a biblical veneer. Jesus wasn't born in December. The date of Christ's mass is based more in the ancient Roman Saturn alien than the Gospels. Many Christian traditions like the Christmas tree, Easter eggs and bunnies come from pagan customs. Christians who followed The Way rejected those kinds of customs in the worship of God. By accepting these customs, Christianity is guilty of returning to the practices the original Christians rejected.
Where is our connection to the earliest Christians when we're going into what they came out of? You know, I hope you're beginning to see that there are differences between much of today's Christianity and the beliefs of those who first followed The Way.
Now let's go back to the story in Ephesians. The book of Acts, it tells us about what happened in Ephesus and what happened to those Ephesians, those people. You know, Ephesus was the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ephesus gained great wealth from serving the needs of pilgrims from both Europe and Asia. And when I say Asia here, this means modern day Turkey. Asia Minor. Doesn't mean Japan, doesn't mean China, okay? There was an entire industry dedicated to making silver statues in her image. How did Ephesian society respond to the message of the new Christian way? We saw the effects of the people who began to follow The Way, they burned books right? They changed, they came out of what they were and became something else.
How did that turn the world upside down? Well, it was pretty dramatic. I'm going to go back to Acts 19. Listen to this. “And about that time there arose a great commotion about The Way, for a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen and he called them together with the workers of similar occupation and said, ‘Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade.’” In other words, the economy was being affected by the message of Paul among a small group of people. Moreover, you see in here that not only in Ephesus but throughout almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only our trade, you know is in danger of falling into disrepute but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed from all Asia and the world who worship her. When they had heard this, these craftsmen, these silversmiths, they were full of wrath and cried out saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians. So the whole city was filled with confusion and rushed to the theater with one accord.”
You know, the ruins of this magnificent theater still exist. You could put 25,000 people in here. This wasn't just one small area, up to 25,000 people, thousands upon thousands of people are rushing in here. They're arguing, they're shouting, they're in confusion. The silversmiths are working the crowd into a frenzy against those who would dare to say that the goddess Diana does not exist. Now, city officials eventually did get control of the crowd before it turned into a riotous mob and went around and killed all the Christians. It's hard to imagine the impact this small group of people had in turning their world upside down simply because they told others about The Way. And it's really difficult for most Christians today to even think about these events as important. You know why? Because it's not important when you go to church on Sunday on Easter. Easter by The Way, in English is just, it's taken from the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. That's where the word comes from and we follow the pagan fertility custom of hiding eggs. It's hard to think about this having any relevance when you decorate your Christmas tree or to go to Christmas Eve party where everyone drinks too much and kisses strangers under the missile toe or dresses your child, your children up as goblins and witches on All Saints Day, right? All souls day. It's hard to imagine and think about Acts 19 when we're enmeshed in these customs, because it doesn't seem to have anything to do with following The Way today.
Well, here's what you need to consider. The foundation of the Christian church is its dedication to the Old Testament. Its acceptance of as Jesus as the Christ and its outright rejection of paganism. Here we are, almost 2000 years since the book burning and riot there in at Ephesus, and where is the faithfulness and dedication of those people? Where is that today? The message of the church today, who are those being called to follow The Way, has become what? Clouded, confused, fundamentally changed. The enthusiastic rejection of paganism has been replaced with a comfortable compromise with paganism. I mean, why do we pretend that a jolly old man in a red suit drops down chimneys to leave toys to good children on Christmas Eve? Why do we pretend that rabbits lay brightly colored eggs? All the while pretending that these customs enhance are experienced are worship of God and Jesus on the most sacred days of their traditional Christian calendar? Remember what I said earlier, that for the first Christians there were only two kinds of religion. Judaism, which believed in the God of the Hebrew scriptures and every other religion which was considered idolatry and demonic. The Christians were eventually rejected from Judaism because of their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. The acceptance of Jesus Christ led to a new understanding of messianic prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures and a way for both Jews and non-Jews to come to God. But their rejection, these early Christians, of paganism remain just as vehement as in the Jewish community.
In a letter to the church in the Grecian city of Corinth Paul addresses a problem with some members who are still going to pagan ceremonies. Okay, so we're going to look at this. Here's what he writes. So this is in the Church of Corinth. In this series we will cover the experience of the Corinthians, and here's what he says. Paul says, “What am I saying then? That an idol is anything or what is offered to an idol is anything.” What he saying here is, you know an idol is just a piece of wood. It's just made out of stone, in of itself it has no power. But what he says next is how the people of The Way believed. “The things.” I want you to read this, this is important. “The things which the Gentile sacrifice they sacrifice to demons.” I want you to settle that for a minute, think about that for a minute, “and not to God. And I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons.”
Here Paul is referencing the bread and wine that in Christian practice represents the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He tells the Corinthians that they can't participate in that sacred ceremony and also participate in pagan customs. Those who followed The Way knew that there was a power in paganism. They understood the reality that Satan and demons are fallen angels and they try to wreck God's creation and keep people from following The Way. You see, paganism isn't just another way to the true God, which is part of one of the false gospels that's going around. It is a counterfeit spiritual belief influenced by the God of this age.
Now you can understand why the Ephesians burned their books and why the silver craftsmen didn't want them around and wanted to drive them out. If Christmas, Easter and Halloween had been tainted by paganism, are there any special days Christians should observe in their worship of God and Christ? This is your next step in discovering The Way.
We want to send you, and help you in your continued journey by sending you a free copy of Holidays or Holy Days. Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? There is a yearly biblical Christian calendar and it has nothing to do with paganism. This calendar includes the Passover, a memorial service of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; the Days of Unleavened Bread, a time to celebrate the work of Jesus Christ and God's work of salvation; the day of Pentecost, the day the people of The Way observed and the Holy Spirit was given to the church, something you could read about in Acts chapter two; the Feast of Trumpets, a day to celebrate the future hope of Christ's return; the Day of Atonement, a time to be reconciled to God without the influences of the devil; and the Feast of Tabernacles, a time to celebrate the future rule of God's Kingdom over all humanity. These biblical celebrations reveal the authentic gospel, God's plan to draw wayward humanity back to Him so we can become His children.
To get your free copy of Holidays or Holy Days. Does it Matter Which Days We Observe?, call the number on your screen or go to BeyondToday.tv where you can read right there online, download a copy or order one to be sent to your home and it's free. Just go to BeyondToday.tv.
There are three lessons that you can take from what we've covered today and really think about from the Christian experience in Ephesus. First, Paul and the Ephesians didn't teach many ways, but one way. One of the greatest threats to living the authentic way today is the false gospel that all religions lead to the same God. It's not true. And I know this sounds harsh in our society but you know those Ephesians who responded to God's call they would understand because that's what they came out of. Two, Jesus as the Son of God is central to The Way. Jesus Christ declared, “I am The Way.” He defines what is a Christian, He is Jesus the Christ. He defines what it means to follow Him. Not anybody else. And number three, the earliest Christians rejected any form of paganism in their worship of the true God. And that's what we've covered today. But remember, this is just part one in a series called The Way. We will look at the experience of the earliest Christians, what they believed and taught. And on our journey we will see that those of The Way, they didn't persecute or harm others by The Way. They didn't go out and try to force conversion on people but they shared their message loud and clear. And this is the same message that we're sharing with you on Beyond Today.
[Narrator] Call now to receive the free booklet offered on today's program. Holidays or Holy Days. Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? Does it matter how we worship God? Does it really make a difference which days we keep? Everyone looks forward to the holidays. What's so bad about Easter, Christmas and other holidays? But many do not realize their origins or what the Bible says about them. Order now call toll-free 1-888-886-8632 or write to the address shown on your screen. This booklet also makes plain the rich meaning behind the days God set apart. When you order this free study aid we'll also send you a complimentary one year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. Beyond Today Magazine brings you understanding of today's world and hope for the future. Six times a year you'll read about current world events in light of Bible prophecy as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family and godly principles to guide you toward a life that leads to peace. Call today to receive your free booklet, Holidays or Holy Days. Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? And your free one year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. 1-888-886-8632, or go online to BeyondToday.tv.
[Gary Petty] In today's world of confusion, disorder and suffering, fellowshipping with others and learning the truth from God's word is more important than ever. Hi, I'm Gary Petty, a pastor with the United Church of God. If you are looking for a church that encourages living what the word of God really teaches, you found the right place. We're a community of believers dedicated to seeking the truth and preaching the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. We'd like to welcome you to come and join us on this spiritual journey. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. Visit ucg.org to find a church near you. We're looking forward to meeting you soon.