Paul’s First Sermon

Acts 13.15
“Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”

Reflection: Paul’s First Sermon
By John Tillman

Scripture takes many forms. Poems, songs, dialogue, histories, genealogies, visions, and even sermons are recorded in God’s Word. Responding to each as it is intended is a valuable spiritual practice. Whenever you encounter a sermon in Scripture, one way to approach it is to take notes as if you were hearing it along with the listeners.

Today, we encounter Paul’s first recorded sermon and take some notes to reflect on.

Paul’s sermon is in response to a call for exhortation. The word Luke uses, paráklēsis, can imply an entreaty for help and is often translated as “comfort” (Luke 2.25; 6.24; Acts 4.36).

Paul’s message is one of comfort but also a call to action; encouragement but also an energizing challenge.
Paul’s message is for Jews and Gentiles—for all who worship God.

God chose the Jews from among the nations.

  • He showed his goodness in blessing them.
  • He showed his power in saving them.
  • He showed his mercy in bearing with and forgiving their sins and weaknesses.
  • He showed his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises to them.

David was chosen from among them.

  • He was a man God chose to bless.
  • He was a man God used to display his power.
  • He was a man to whom God showed mercy for his sins and weaknesses.
  • He was a man through whom God chose to fulfill a greater promise.

Jesus came from David.

  • As promised by God.
  • As prophesied by prophets throughout Israel’s history.
  • As proclaimed publically by the prophet, John the Baptist.

Jesus completed God’s promised salvation.

  • Through his fulfillment of Scripture.
  • Through his submission to death.
  • Through his physical resurrection.

Through his fulfillment of Scripture, his submission to death, and his physical resurrection, Jesus has made manifest God’s promises of forgiveness and salvation.

The offer of salvation is real.

  • Salvation is a work done by God.
  • Salvation can be ignored.
  • Salvation can be accepted.

The implications of Paul’s sermon:

  • We are chosen by God like Israel, like David, like Paul.
  • God has demonstrated his power in us through Christ’s resurrection and our salvation.
  • God bears with our weakness and sin, forgiving us.
  • God carries his appeal to the world through us.

We, like Paul, are responsible to respond to the world’s need for paráklēsis— for encouragement, comfort, and exhortation.  
We must say as Paul did, “Therefore, my friends…the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Know this, the Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 9 (Listen – 8:22)
Acts 13 (Listen – 7:36)

Today’s Readings
Judges 10-11.11 (Listen – 2:18) Acts 14 (Listen – 3:54)
Judges 11.12-40 (Listen – 5:53) Acts 15 (Listen – 5:43)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Setting Aside the Scriptures
Considering all of Scripture together without breaking it apart requires patience and a deep familiarity with Scripture.

Read more about When We Fast From The Feast
Our culture has steadily, for decades, been encouraging us to abstain from spiritual disciplines in favor of activities that we are led to believe are more profitable.

Readers’ Choice Submissions

It has been so good to hear from many of you about posts for Readers’ Choice, but we still have some room in August for your input.

Share with our community about the post or posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Resisting Herods

Acts 12.21-22
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.”

Reflection: Resisting Herods
By John Tillman

In his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson confesses regarding the Herods of the New Testament, “These were people who knew how to get things done.”

“The Herods epitomize the kind of people that the Jesus community is so often drawn to in hopes of gaining their approval, recruiting them as allies, and using their influence in the cause of the kingdom.

But neither Jesus nor Paul did it. Basically their attitude is one of detached indifference. There is no fawning, no sign of what so often comes out among us in the presence of important people as, “Oh what an opportunity! Let’s make the most of this…these are influential leaders.” Jesus virtually ignores them. Paul faithfully gives witness but with no attempt to adapt or curry favor.

What is significant here for understanding the community vis a vis the World is this: the Herods offer the possibility of influence with Rome. These men are masters at “influence.” Both Herods are curious about the men on trial: Antipas curious about Jesus, Agrippa curious about Paul. This curiosity is ripe for exploitation; it can be used for the kingdom. But neither Jesus nor Paul exploited it; they do not “use” it; they ignore it.

And why? Because Jesus and the Jesus community know that the conditions in which the gospel makes its way in the World have little to do with influence and wealth and power. The non-negotiable context from which they work is made up of Jesus, the cross and the Trinity. Neither celebrity nor “opportunity” distracts either Jesus or the Jesus community.

The world is a seductive place. Once we begin to cater to its interests, appeal to its curiosities, shape our language to its idioms and syntax, embrace its criteria of relevance, we abandon our basic orientation.

Too often what took place at the trials of Jesus and Paul, trials that put Jesus and Paul in contrast to the way of the World, recedes from our awareness and is replaced by assumptions dominated by opportunity, technique, and accomplishment. Jesus and Paul were not seduced…”


Today’s Christian leaders must demonstrate the ability to stand before today’s Herods with more of John the Baptist’s moral compass, Christ’s wordless resistance, and Paul’s refusal to beg favors in his own defense.

Few seem to know how. The Herods of the world keep sucking us in.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that among the Gentiles the rulers lord it over them, and great men make their authority felt. Among you, this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” — Matthew 20.25-28

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 8 (Listen – 5:08)
Acts 12 (Listen – 3:49)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Who is Your King?
When God sets out to make things new, he eschews governments. He starts a family. He lifts up outcasts. He frees slaves. He gathers a community.

Read more about Worship and Politics
”Look not to the interests of the wealthy whose hands proffer you bribes, but protect the rights of the needy” — Charles Spurgeon

Readers’ Choice Submissions

Help us fill August with reflections from you about the post or posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Going Where the Gospel Goes

Acts 11:17-18
“So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Reflection: Going Where the Gospel Goes
By Jon Polk

News of the Gentile converts was a big deal in Jerusalem. When Peter arrived in the city, he had some explaining to do.

“You went into the house of a Gentile?” “You actually shared a meal with his family?” “Peter, you of all people. What were you thinking?”

To participate in the church community, Gentiles needed to be purified by observing the Torah—specifically circumcision—so discovering that Peter had welcomed uncircumcised Gentiles into fellowship was a cause of consternation among the believers in Jerusalem.
Lest we underestimate the radical importance of this event, Luke, the author of Acts, records the account of Cornelius the Gentile’s conversion three times: the original event in chapter 10, Peter’s recollection here in chapter 11 and Peter’s argument before the Jerusalem council in chapter 15. Peter’s first-hand experience with Cornelius and the other Gentiles in Caesarea changed the attitudes of the early Jewish followers of Jesus and opened the door of fellowship for the Gentiles.

It was Peter’s story that was convincing. Not theological arguments. Not propositional statements. Not disconnected rationalizations. Real stories of real people and their real experience with God made the difference. Peter’s own attitude about Gentiles was changed and likewise, when the believers in Jerusalem heard his story, they also dropped their objections.
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

We could apply the same principle from travel to any experiences with peoples or cultures outside of our own. It is easy to pass judgment from afar, but sharing a conversation or a meal allows us to see first-hand that the same Spirit of God that we hold dear also works in the lives of others very different from us.

Our modern lives are becoming increasingly segregated by our social-media echo-chambers, our holy huddles of the like-minded, and prevailing negativity towards anything—or anyone—outside of our safe preconceived notions and beliefs. If we allow ourselves to step outside of our familiar circles, we might find that we understand Peter’s assessment of God’s acceptance of the Gentile converts, “Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death a light has blazed forth. — Isaiah 9.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 6 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 11 (Listen – 3:52)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Slavery, Racism, and a Lone Christian Voice
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Read more about Racism Wears a Mask
We have allowed racism to rise, wearing a mask decorated with other concerns. In our government. In our businesses. Even in our churches.

Readers’ Choice Submissions

Help us fill August with reflections from you about the post or posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

A Mutual Conversion

Acts 10:34-35
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Reflection: A Mutual Conversion
By Jon Polk

Cornelius was a big deal in Caesarea. A Roman centurion stationed in the city as a member of the Italian Regiment, Cornelius and his entire family were “God-fearing” Gentiles, regularly praying to the God of the Jews. He was also known for his generosity to the poor and needy.
None of this, however, is why Cornelius is recorded in the history of the early church. Instead, he is remembered for a vision and a summons.

During the middle of the day, Cornelius was visited by an angel, who instructed him to send for Peter. Marshaling his resources, he sent two servants and a trusted soldier on the mission to persuade Peter to come visit.

Meanwhile, Peter was experiencing his own vision in which he was instructed by God to eat unclean animals. While Peter wrestled with the meaning of his vision, Cornelius’ entourage arrived and convinced him to accompany them to Caesarea.

Impressed by Cornelius’ faith, Peter began preaching to the crowd gathered in the house, opening with the words, “I realize now that God does not show favoritism, but accepts anyone who fears him.” He then recounted for those assembled the gospel story of Jesus Christ.
Peter’s opening statement indicates a change in his own understanding. As a good Jew, it was unlawful for him to even associate with Gentiles. It was incomprehensible to him that uncircumcised Gentiles could become disciples of Jesus, but that’s exactly what happened. We witness a mutual conversion, both of Cornelius the Gentile and of Peter the Jew.

Scholar Beverly Gaventa writes, “The end of [verse 36, chapter 10] may be the most important line in the drama: ‘He is Lord of all’ means not only that there is no other Lord but that no one can be excluded from his Lordship.”

Through the conversion of Cornelius and company, the news of God’s impartial love for all humanity impacted Peter, but it also compels us as well. Because God shows impartial love to all kinds of people, we have a responsibility to show the same kind of love to all people. As God seeks out relationships with all people, we too are called to open ourselves to relationships outside our own social and cultural spheres.

It took the power of the Holy Spirit to bridge a relationship between Peter and Cornelius. That same Spirit empowers us in our calling to love others.

Prayer: The Small Verse
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and we who dwell within. Thanks be to God. — Traditional

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 6 (Listen – 6:15)
Acts 10 (Listen – 5:49)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Love, Suffering, and the Struggle for Racial Equality
When we work for racial equality we are not doing political work—we are doing God’s work.

Read more about The Responsibility of Racial Reconciliation
It is the responsibility of the more powerful party to ensure the equitability of any reconciliation.

Readers’ Choice Submissions

Help us fill August with reflections from you about the post or posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

A Congregation of Hope

Acts 9:40
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.

Reflection: A Congregation of Hope
By Jon Polk

Tabitha was a big deal in Joppa. A disciple and prominent member of the Joppa congregation, she was known for her generosity and considerable service to others, especially the widows in their midst. Apparently, her reputation carried outside the church to the larger Greek community as well, where she was known by her Greek name, Dorcas.

Tabitha’s great significance to the church is revealed after her untimely illness and death. Upon hearing that the miracle-working Peter was in nearby Lydda, not one but two witnesses were dispatched to urgently summon him. When Peter arrived on the scene, the group of weeping widows—who were not the usual professional mourners common of the day, but rather dear friends of Tabitha—showed him that the very clothes they were wearing were made by Tabitha, who distributed them to the poor and needy.

For the congregation in Joppa, Tabitha’s death was more than the loss of a close friend, it presented a serious impact on their ministry outreach to the poor. Without attempting to deal with the situation on their own, they reached out in tremendous faith for the power of God, represented by the healer, Peter.

In The Sacred Journey, author Frederick Buechner writes:

“When it comes to putting broken lives back together—when it comes, in religious terms, to the saving of souls—the human best tends to be at odds with the holy best. To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still.”

The congregation at Joppa recognized they had a God-sized need that required a God-sized solution. This congregation believed in a resurrection hope, in a God that could exceed all expectations. They came together to mourn and weep, but also to hope and pray, and eventually, to celebrate. They were vulnerable enough to accept that the situation was desperate beyond their control.

Life presents us with our share of challenges from daily nuisances to more significant needs for physical healing or spiritual resurrection. May we have the faith of the Joppa congregation and be willing to place our hope daily in our great God, the giver of life.

Prayer: The Greeting
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory; because of your love and because of your faithfulness. — Psalm 109.26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 5 (Listen – 4:36)
Acts 9 (Listen – 6:05)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Read more from Jon Polk: Generosity that Outlives Tragedy
Many people are eager to donate towards an immediate one-time need, but are resistant to living an on-going lifestyle of generosity.

Read more about Good News to the Poor
When Mary sang about filling the hungry with good things, poverty and many other personal tragedies were considered markers of spiritual failure.

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