Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

Carry On

Posted: January 13, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 14:21-28, “Carry On”

Fans of classic rock will immediately recognize the lyrics: “Carry on my wayward son / There’ll be peace when you are done / Lay your weary head to read / Don’t you cry no more.” The guitarist and main songwriter for the band Kansas, Kerry Livgren, later professed to become a born-again evangelical Christian (as did Dave Hope, the original drummer & John Elefante, one of their lead vocalists – each of whom are retired from the band). Livgren has said that he wrote the song about his own spiritual journey at the time, which thankfully ended up at the foot of the cross.

The idea resonates with all of us. There are times we get tired & weary, but we need to carry on – we need to endure. Of course, this takes on a whole new meaning for those who are born-again by the grace of God through Christ Jesus. We do not carry on in our strength; we carry on in Jesus’ strength by the power of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory…but we still need to carry on. We don’t give up. We may grow weary, but we don’t quit. We “keep on keeping on,” and endure to the end. There might be various different stages of completion along the way, but the journey isn’t over until we see our Lord Jesus face-to-face, and we carry on until that day.

That’s the case with us, and that was the case with Paul and Barnabas. By the end of Acts 14, they had completed one major (and groundbreaking!) task: the first international missionary journey of the Christian church. They encouraged the churches they had planted to carry on, and the same counsel applied to themselves: carry on until the end. They weren’t going to stop until the work was done, and that’s what they did. Even with this, the work wasn’t really “over” – it was just on pause. Jesus was continuing to build His church, and what He did was wonderful!

For context, we basically need to take a broad look at the entire missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas had been called and set apart by the Holy Spirit for missionary work, and their home church in Antioch of Syria recognized this, prayed over them, and sent them forth into the field. The team first arrived on the island of Cyrus, the home region of Barnabas, who was leading the mission at the time. He and Paul (at the time known by his Hebrew name of Saul) established a pattern of preaching Jesus in the synagogues, systematically working their way across the island. The apostles soon got the chance to preach to the proconsul (governor) of the island, and they encountered their first instance of Jewish resistance. Paul rose to the forefront, confronting and miraculously judging the one opposing him, and the proconsul came to faith.

From there, Paul continued to lead the group back to the mainland, and although Barnabas’ nephew John Mark left them, they continued to the next major city of Antioch Pisidia in the region of Galatia. It was then that Luke (as the author) gave his readers a glimpse into the evangelistic methods of Paul. Paul and Barnabas had again gone to the synagogue, and Paul preached Jesus to them, showing Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises and preparations of God through the Scriptures. Although some Jews believed, others did not, and they created quite a bit of trouble for the apostles when they took the gospel to the Gentiles of the city. Soon, things became so bad that the team was forced to leave.

This cycle repeated itself in Iconium and Lystra, with the exception that Lystra was extremely pagan. The people were even ready to sacrifice oxen to the apostles (due to a miraculous healing performed by Paul) until Jews from Antioch and Iconium convinced them to stone Paul instead. By the grace and power of God, Paul survived the attack – but the window of opportunity was now gone. Remaining determined and faithful to his calling, he and Barnabas left Lystra for the next (and final) city Derbe, and the work continued.

What then? Eventually all journeys come to an end, and this was no different. The time had come to return home, and the apostolic team revisited the various churches they had planted along the way. This helped Paul and Barnabas not only see that the work of the gospel was continuing in these cities, but it also served to strengthen the Christians who were there. Soon, the work was done, and the apostles (along with all the church) were able to rejoice and rest. They had seen God build His church, and they could see how He was continuing to do it even when they weren’t around. Paul and Barnabas had been diligent – and God gave them exactly what was needed for the churches they had planted to be just as diligent.

We need to be diligent! We need to continue in the faith – to continue in the work of the gospel that God has given us & has begun in our lives. It can be easy for us to get discouraged and to give up, but God gives us the strength and equipping to continue. Walk in the equipping of Christ, and carry on!

Acts 14:21–28

  • Strengthening the churches (14:21-23). Be strengthened in Christ!

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch,

  1. Remember that the apostles were last said in verse 20 to have come to Derbe. Derbe was approximately 35 miles southeast of Lystra, where Paul had barely escaped death after being brutally stoned by the pagan mob stirred up by the Jews following the apostles from place to place. 35 miles doesn’t sound terribly far to our ears (just barely over the distance from Tyler to Henderson, or from Tyler to Athens), but we need to remember that Paul & Barnabas were travelling by foot; not by car. It could be travelled in a day, but it was a long, tough day of walking…something that would have made anyone following Paul and Barnabas think twice before making the trip. In any case, the two apostles arrived & got to work. How long they stayed, we don’t know, but it surely took several days to weeks, as seen in the progress that was made: there were “many” disciples – many who came to faith in Jesus, and given a solid footing and start in the faith.
  2. Don’t miss the fact that there were two distinct activities going on: evangelism & discipleship. Although the English translates it as two descriptive phrases, these are simply two different words in the Greek. We might say that Paul and Barnabas were “gospelizing” and “discipling.” In other words, they not only made converts, but they trained These two things go hand-in-hand, or at least should go hand-in-hand, although this isn’t always the case. Some Christians think that it’s enough to share the gospel, get someone to pray a prayer, and then just leave them hanging. Others want to get people into Bible studies and small groups, but not engage with their unbelieving neighbors, friends, and co-workers about Jesus. Both of these things are absolutely necessary, but they are not so easily separated. As the church, we ought to engage in both evangelism and discipleship. People need to both come to Christ, and then be brought up in Christ. Keep in mind, this is wasn’t new to Paul & Barnabas; this was first said by Jesus as part of the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19–20, “(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Grammatically, the key verb is “to disciple,” (“make disciples”), demonstrated by three participles: going, baptizing, and teaching. We have to go and share the gospel if there are ever to be converts to baptize – but although it starts with evangelism & baptism, it doesn’t end there. Those converts have to become more than mere converts (someone who has said “yes” to Jesus, repenting from their sins & putting their faith in Him as Savior & Lord). They only become true disciples when they are taught to observe the things that Jesus has said (as seen in His word, the Bible). Thus, this was the mission of Paul & Barnabas, and this is the mission of all the church! Making converts + training converts = making disciples. We haven’t truly engaged in the Great Commission unless we’ve done both.
    1. The good news is that this is what the church is for! Some believers are gifted evangelists, while others are far more skilled at discipleship. Both are free to work in their giftings…the key is to actually engage in those gifts! We cannot afford to put all of the focus on one & not on the other. This is why church congregations as a whole need to put effort into both.
  3. With the mission done in Derbe, what next? Paul and Barnabas decided it was time to go back home. Notably, they didn’t go the quickest & easiest route back to Antioch of Syria. They could have kept walking along the mainland and made it home relatively quickly; they didn’t. Instead, they decided to go back to the churches they had planted in “Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch [Pisidia].” Aside from all of these being cities with newly planted churches, they all had something else in common: these were cities of persecution. The easier way home was also the safer way home, but that’s not what Paul and Barnabas chose to do. They chose the harder route, the more dangerous route. Why? Because it was the more necessary route! They had new Christian friends, brothers & sisters in these other cities, and there was only one way to see them and to encourage them: by going back.
    1. God doesn’t always call us to “easy;” He calls us to faith. A faith-filled walk is rarely an easy comfortable walk…but it is a far better one! When we walk by what seems easy, we get what we expect & no more; when we walk by faith, we witness the work of God! We’ll see miracles we wouldn’t have ordinarily seen – we’ll experience the leading of the Holy Spirit in ways we wouldn’t normally have – we’ll get new opportunities to share Jesus that we wouldn’t otherwise experience. For many born-again Christians, they are saved, but life is hum-drum. Do you want a vibrant walk? Walk by faith!

22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”

  1. The purpose of Paul & Barnabas in going back wasn’t to pat themselves on the back; they had a specific goal in mind: “strengthening the souls of the disciples.” These men & women had been won to Christ, and the apostles had taught them as much about “the faith” (basic Christianity) as they could teach them in the limited time they had available to them before violence & other circumstances forced the disciples to leave. But Paul & Barnabas knew that if they had the opportunity (which they did), they could help these new churches even more. They wanted these new believers to be strengthened – to be made firmer in the foundation of their faith. Remember the parable of the soils, how two of the soils (the rocky ground & the thorny ground) saw immediate growth among potential believers, but quick withering away (due to a lack of root or worldly distraction). Paul and Barnabas wanted to do whatever they could do to help these new converts avoid those problems. They wanted to ensure that the people they saw come to faith in Christ remained in that faith – to be strongly rooted & grounded in Christ Jesus.
  2. How were the churches strengthened? First, as verse 21 showed, the apostles visited them. They gave the churches the gift of their presence. They didn’t leave these Christians alone, letting them be “out of sight, out of mind.” They didn’t ignore these new believers with the mindset of “I did my job; now it’s your problem.” Paul and Barnabas realized that because they were the ones who shared the gospel with these Christians & got them started in the faith, that they had a special responsibility to these believers to ensure they were properly grounded. Granted, they couldn’t do everything for these churches, nor could they hold every single believer by the hand and treat them like baby Christians for the rest of their lives. But while they had the opportunity, they personally cared for these Christians, and that “care” looked like “time.”
    1. One of the greatest gifts we can give one another (apart from the gospel) is our time. True investment and care for another person is seen in the time spent with him/her. Kids know this regarding their parents, spouses know it regarding each other – and we know it within the church. Time is rarely easy to give (and apart from families, we shouldn’t expect it!), but it is truly valuable when given. It’s a demonstration of love and concern, and it’s something that cannot be substituted.
    2. Discipleship is something that takes time. There’s no shortcut to Christian maturity – no one becomes a strong, grounded disciple by osmosis; it’s something that time in every believer. How valuable it is to that new believer when someone else more seasoned in the faith comes alongside them to help them & strengthen them! To them, that discipler is a gift from God. And that’s a gift all of us can be to someone else at some point in time. Maybe you’re a newer believer & you need someone to disciple you – that’s okay, we’ve all been there & we all start somewhere. But maybe you’ve been a Christian for a number of years. Who have you discipled? Who’s been someone you’ve taken under your wing? Again, this is all part of the Great Commission: to make disciples; not mere converts. This is something God has called all of us to do, and it’s something we can do, to one degree or another. It may not look like intense Bible study or a structured program (much of that can be done through the discipleship within the church). Sometimes, it’s a shared cup of coffee & counsel – it’s calling someone to see how you can pray for them – it’s offering some perspective when you see something going wrong. You don’t have to be their pastor; you just be you. Be careful not to downplay what God can do through you for another believer.
  3. Secondly, the apostles strengthened the churches by encouraging and “exhorting them.” Obviously, this was much of what Paul and Barnabas did with their time. Their visits to these cities weren’t simple social calls. They came alongside these new believers, and exhorted them “to continue in the faith.” These Christians (like all Christians) needed to stay in, remain in, persevere in the faith that had been handed down to them from the apostles. As seen in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (which was this very region of people), there were false teachers who would come to them, trying to sway them away from the cross and back to Judaism (or into Judaism for the first time, if they were Gentiles). Remember that it was in these cities that the Jews most drastically opposed Paul & Barnabas, stirring up mobs and other persecution against them. No doubt the Christians who remained behind had to continually deal with the same issues. The apostles (better than anyone) knew what kind of encouragement these Christians needed, and they gave it. Although it may have seemed like they were swimming against the tide of their culture, the Christians needed to stay in Christ, remain grounded in their faith, and persevere in the gospel. The gospel of Jesus is the truth, no matter what anyone else around them may have claimed (proven by Jesus’ historical resurrection from the dead), so they needed to stay grounded in that truth.
    1. For some, this begs the question: Can a Christian leave the faith? If a Christian needs to be exhorted to stay in the faith, does that mean that the faith (i.e. someone’s salvation) can be left behind? With all due respect…that misses the point. Paul and Barnabas were not dealing with theoretical, esoteric theological debates and theories; they were dealing with real Christians and real discipleship. Wherever someone stands on eternal security, there’s no question that we go through times when Christians don’t act Christian – when we don’t walk in the faith that we claim – when we gravitate towards the doctrine of the world rather than the doctrine of God. This was what the apostles warned against & pleaded with these new disciples not to do.
    2. Stay in the truth! Stay grounded in the gospel of Christ! There was a time in our culture when it seemed like the majority of people held a Biblical worldview and that Christian ideas were not generally challenged. That is no longer the case. We encounter situations every day where we have to make a choice between the morality of the culture & the morality of the Bible – a choice between pleasing our bosses, families, & neighbors, or pleasing the Lord God. Make the right choice! Stay in the faith, holding fast to Jesus, the cross, and His resurrection. That choice is worth it!
  4. And again, it’s not always easy. In fact, Paul and Barnabas told the Galatian Christians that it was necessarily hard. “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” The “must” is not a throwaway word in Greek; it speaks of true necessity. There is no way to avoid tribulations, suffering, and other difficulty when it comes to our Christian walk as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. Paul knew this from firsthand experience, and the Galatian Christians witnessed this with their own eyes. Especially those from Lystra – they would vividly remember standing over Paul’s bloodied body after his stoning, knowing that the reason for his suffering was his preaching for Jesus. Suffering was simply part of the Christian experience. As Paul would later write, there is a fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings (Phil 3:10), and it’s something in which all Christians participate.
    1. Obviously, we don’t all participate in the same way. Few American Evangelical Christians could claim to suffer the same way that the underground Christians in China suffer (or North Korea, or Iran, etc.). But to one extent or another, we will suffer for Christ. Someone will abandon you because of your faith – someone will hate you because of your faith – someone will challenge you because of your faith. To one extent or another, you will be rejected at some point in time…it’s normal. And it’s necessary. How else will we understand what it is our Savior endured, unless we experience a tiny taste? How else will we get a glimpse of the sacrifice Jesus made for us? How else will we appreciate the love Jesus has for us? Beloved, we don’t seek suffering, but we need not fear it; it is only a fraction of what our Lord gave for you and me.
  5. Paul and Barnabas strengthened the church through their presence, through their exhortation, and through one other way…

23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

  1. Strengthening #3: The apostles provided for the churches, helping establish them in maturity. This was done in three ways.
  2. First, they “appointed elders.” Paul and Barnabas were incredible church planters, and they had much experience in pastoral ministry back home in Antioch of Syria, but the Holy Spirit hadn’t called Paul & Barnabas to pastor the churches in Galatia; He called them to plant them. Other leaders were required to carry on the work, and although no one in these churches had been born-again believers for very long, those who were called by God to the ministry needed to be appointed to the ministry.
    1. How were the elders chosen? At this point, Luke doesn’t say. Again, all of the believers were new believers, so in a sense, all were “novices” – something which Paul would later tell Timothy to avoid in appointing elders (1 Tim 3:6). At the same time, there were likely some converted Jews who were well-versed in the Scriptures (which was the Old Testament) and capable of doctrinally sound teaching for the church. In the end, we can’t say, but we know this: Paul and Barnabas chose the best they could in the time that they had. Leaders were needed, so leaders were chosen.
    2. How are leaders (specifically pastors and elders) to be chosen today? Paul wrote to both Timothy and Titus, giving them very specific instructions on the matter. Titus 1:7–9, “(7) For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, (8) but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, (9) holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” Notice that the majority of this is character-based. Although bishops (overseers, i.e. first-among-elders) are to be skilled enough to teach, exhort, and convict through sound doctrine, the primary qualification for ministry is Christian maturity. It isn’t the talent to tell jokes, the skill to run a corporation, the amount of academic degrees held, or much of anything commonly sought for in pastoral candidates; it is a track record of how well a man has walked with the Lord Jesus. It’s not that other skills are irrelevant, but (at best) they are secondary. What churches need are godly men of character, and sadly, many times these have been left behind for someone who looks & sounds good on camera.
    3. How does this strengthen the church? Healthy leadership makes for healthy congregations. When pastors teach the word, congregations read and learn the word. When pastors are passionate about evangelism, congregations share the gospel. When pastors love their congregation, the people love each other. When pastors serve, the people serve. But when pastors promote themselves, when they guilt other people into serving them, when it becomes all about them & their own ministry/ego – that’s when congregations suffer and become susceptible to every wind of doctrine. Think about it: a “pastor” (shepherd) takes care of a “flock,” feeding & caring for the sheep in order for the sheep to be healthy & reproduce. Pastors of churches are to do no different.
  3. Second, they “prayed” and fasted. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to note because it is so easily overlooked. There is far more to setting up a church than writing a constitution/by-laws, setting up a board of elders, and filing the appropriate paperwork. That may be the legal minimum, but the church is not merely a legal entity. A local church congregation is a gathering of God’s own people – His “called out” ones, under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ, brought together by the Holy Spirit to give praise and honor to God. It is a spiritual body with a spiritual calling, thus it needs a spiritual foundation and empowerment. Churches are formed, strengthened, and sustained through prayer. The very first time that people in this congregation met in November 2004, deciding whether to proceed with a church plant, we looked at this verse: Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.” If anything was to be done to form a “Calvary Chapel Tyler,” then the work had to be done by the Lord, which meant the work had to be bathed in prayer. Prayer is essential to this church, and it is essential to every healthy church. Not rote prayer – not “done out of ritual, I can’t wait to be done with this” prayer; real prayer – sincere prayer – passionate prayer. That was the point of Paul & Barnabas fasting while they prayed. This was focused, intentional, sincere prayer. And why would it be otherwise? These church planters were leaving, and at the time, they had no idea if they would ever see these Christians again. For all they knew, they would never return to Galatia, so these churches needed to be as prepared as possible. And that leads into the third point…
  4. Third, they “commended them to the Lord.” IOW, Paul & Barnabas entrusted these churches to Jesus. When they fasted & prayed, when they set up elders and leadership in the congregations, they knew they were leaving these churches behind…but they weren’t leaving them alone. They had been built upon the gospel of Jesus, and they could be left in the hands of Jesus. The Lord would not abandon His work. Paul & Barnabas were the tools used by God to start the churches in Galatia, but these men were not who built the churches in Galatia. Jesus did that. This was His work – these were His people. And that was the point of publicly commending the churches to the Lord. It wasn’t so that Jesus would be informed that Paul & Barnabas were done (as if Jesus needs to be “informed” of anything!); it was so that the people would know that they were in the hands of the Lord. They needed to trust Jesus to sustain them, even (and especially) after Paul & Barnabas had gone. The apostles were truly important and beloved by them, but their continued existence and growth did not depend on the apostles; it depended upon Christ.
    1. Never forget who builds the church…never forget who builds Christians. It is Christ, the Lord! We are grateful for the apostles of the past – we love our pastors & leaders, but these people come and go. In the case of the apostles & other church planters, their ministries are necessarily temporary. In the case of pastors & elders, they can be around for years & decades. But at some point, everyone leaves (even if through retirement or death). Those people, as valuable as they are, are not who builds us & sustains us. That is Jesus alone. We need to trust Him, and entrust ourselves to Him for that work.
    2. Again, this applies to more than church congregations, but also to individual Christians. There may be people for whom you’ve prayed for years. By all means keep praying – but be careful not to burden yourself with responsibility that does not belong to you. We are to be faithful with the opportunities given us by Jesus, but we will never be (and never want to be!) a replacement for Jesus in the lives of others. That means we need to entrust them to the Lord. You will never be able to make/force someone else to follow Christ, so stop trying. Pray for them, exhort them, plead with them – but give them to God. Ultimately their walk with the Lord (if indeed there is one) is between them and Jesus. At some point, we have to trust the Lord and move on.

So Paul and Barnabas have preached the gospel in Galatia, they’ve made disciples in Galatia, and they’ve strengthened the churches in Galatia. They’ve encouraged and equipped the Christians in these cities to carry on, so what did the apostles do next? They carried on, themselves – travelling home to bring everything to a close.

  • Finishing the work (14:24-28). Be diligent in Christ!

24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

  1. Although Paul and Barnabas had already retraced their steps back through the cities where they planted churches, at this point they began the trip home in earnest. They went along the main road, came to the same cities, and boarded a ship at the port of Attalia to sail back to Syria. Interestingly, they did not return to the island of Cyprus, and there is no mention as to why. Perhaps there were already established churches in Cyprus (considering that Barnabas and others who had come to Antioch were from Cyprus) – perhaps there was some other pressing matter of time & seasons for sailing. Whatever the reason, the apostles went home.
  2. That said, notice that they were always preaching. If there was ever a town in which they had to spend time, that time was spent sharing the good news of Jesus. The formal missionary journey may have come to an end, but the Great Commission hadn’t. The apostles were always apostles everywhere they went – and more than that, they were born-again Christians everywhere they went. They were always witnesses of Jesus, because that was simply who they were.
    1. We don’t need a formal ministry calling to be witnesses of Jesus, primarily because we’ve all already received one: it’s called the Great Commission! No born-again believer needs a title to share Christ. You don’t need to be “Pastor so & so” or “Evangelist so & so”; you just need to be born-again! If you have repented of your sins & received Jesus as your Lord & Savior, you have all the title & commission that is required to share Jesus. That’s what we do, because that is who we are. As Christians we are witnesses of Christ. We testify of who He is, and that He is Lord. It doesn’t have to be the street preaching of Paul – it can be as easy as handing someone a gospel tract in casual conversation, or asking someone how you can pray for them & then praying right then & there while sharing the gospel. To testify of Jesus is to simply let Jesus be known to others, and the ways to do that are countless!

26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.

  1. Finally, the work was done! It had been 18 months of travel, comprised of 700 miles by land, 500 by sea. As far as we know, nothing like this had ever been attempted in the short history of the church. Granted, Christians took the gospel with them wherever they went after leaving Jerusalem (and they went far & wide), but this was the first formal attempt to send a missionary party out from a local congregation, with the specific purpose of evangelism & church planting, ultimately to return back home. This was the ministry to which the Holy Spirit called Paul & Barnabas, and this was what they had been “commended” to by the church at Antioch as they trusted the grace of God. Things had come full-circle, all was completed, and it was time to rejoice!
    1. It is good to acknowledge the work of God. We don’t want to spend all our time looking in reverse at the so-called “good old days,” but neither do we want to miss the moment. It’s good to look back, and see what has been done. Think about your own life for moment. What is it God has done? Who were you in the past, and who has God made you to be? What has He saved you from & what has He saved you for? How has He used you as His tool for His glory? Those are things worth remembering & things worth celebrating! Put it in a journal – take time in prayer – share it with your spouse or a friend. Acknowledge the work of God & give Him thanks!
    2. BTW – God’s work in you isn’t done yet! There are missions and seasons that come to completion, but the only time that Jesus’ work within us is done is when we finally see Him face-to-face.

27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

  1. With the work done, it was time to gather the Christians, give a report, and give God the praise! This was a mission to be celebrated, as God had done wonderful things. Don’t miss that: it was “all that God had done with them.” It wasn’t that what Paul & Barnabas did wasn’t important, but they knew that they weren’t the primary actors. God was the one who did the work, so God was the one to receive the glory. God had called them into ministry, gave them the open doors, provided the finances, gave them the words, performed the miracles, and even guarded them from death. Paul and Barnabas were simply tools in the hands of God, and that was exactly what they wanted to be.
    1. How wonderful it is to be a tool in the hand of the Master Builder – to be a suit of clothes for Jesus, for Him to use in His purposes. Ministry isn’t about us; it’s about Him, so He is the one who should receive the glory. Too often, God uses Christians for something wonderful, and then we spend the next 24 hours patting ourselves on the back for how faithful we were. TV ministries do this all the time, showing themselves as being oh-so-important, which was the reason God chose them (rather than some other ministry to which you might donate your money). News flash: we’re not that important! Never forget that God opened the mouth of a donkey when He wanted to speak a word to a prophet who thought too much of himself. (Balaam, Numbers 22) If God can use a donkey, He has no problem using you or me!
    2. Instead of stealing the credit for ourselves, let us give it to the one to whom it belongs: God. The Lord Jesus chooses to use us in marvelous ways – it is simply an honor to be used! The vase doesn’t take credit for the beauty of the roses placed within it, nor the hammer for the house that is constructed. God is the Master Artist, the Builder, the Lord over His church, and He is the one who should receive all of the glory.

28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

  1. After a long time of ministry, Paul & Barnabas received a well-deserved rest. Not that things came to a grinding halt for the apostles. Remember that God had used them in local ministry in Antioch for at least a year before calling them to the mission field (Acts 11:26) – no doubt this ministry continued. They would have taught & discipled local Christians – they would have shared the gospel with the people of Antioch of Syria – they would have done all the things the other Christians right alongside them were doing. Rest from the mission field didn’t mean a vacation from life! No doubt they took a few days in recovering from travel, but there was much to do right where they were (including Paul’s writing of the book of Galatians, which likely took place at this time). Rest? Yes. Retired? No. As long as they lived, the apostles could be used by Jesus. Christ has used them on the mission field, and now He used them with the local church.
    1. Jesus can use us right where we are! So many people think, “I can’t wait for ____; that’s when I’ll be able to serve the Lord!” Why wait? Why wait for a foreign mission field, when a mission field exists right outside our doors? Why wait for a later circumstance in life when God has surrounded you with people right here & now? It doesn’t meant that God won’t do something else later – perhaps He’ll send you to a mission field, or give you some other opportunity. But you might not ever see the later things unless you are faithful with the present things. Every single one of you are here, in this city, at this time, surrounded by the people in your day-to-day lives. God wants to use you with them. Don’t wait – get busy! Stay diligent to what God has given you to do.
    2. For others, you don’t look towards the future; you’re always looking at the past. You’re the one with the “good old days”…the problem is that everything is in the good old days. Is there a time for rest? Sure…but it doesn’t last forever. We retire from our careers; not from our Christianity. While God has you here, He has you here for a reason: to bring glory to Him & be a light for Jesus. Don’t stop with the things of the past – look to the present, and see what God will do!

Conclusion:

Missions end; the Great Commission does not. Paul and Barnabas had a wonderful end to a tumultuous journey. For all the hardships they experienced along the way, they were able to retrace their steps, strengthen the churches, & celebrate the work of God. They encouraged the Christians they had seen to carry on in their faith, and to carry on with what God had in store for them.

If Paul & Barnabas were among us today, they would tell us the same thing: carry on! Continue in the faith & continue in the work! Be strengthened in Jesus, and be diligent for Jesus. He was the one who began the work in you, and He will be faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6). He does that for you; you do that for Him. Be faithful & carry on!

Maybe today you’re feeling weak, weary, and discouraged. In the past you’ve been faithful to Christ, but you’ve encountered so much trial, tribulation, and temptation, that you find it difficult to take another step. Remember that God does not call you to walk in your strength; He offers you His strength. When Paul & Barnabas strengthened the churches, they didn’t tell the Galatian Christians to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (sandal-straps?); they prayed over them & entrusted them to the Lord. Do the same! Pray, and entrust yourself to Christ. Ask Him to fill you anew with the Holy Spirit & give you the strength you need to carry on. That is a prayer guaranteed to be answered! Like Paul, you will find that His grace is sufficient!

Most households have an unsolved Rubiks Cube but you can esily solve it learning a few algorithms.

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Dealing with Danger

Posted: January 6, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 14:1-20, “Dealing with Danger”

Movie fans or parents of young children will recognize this immediately: “Danger? Hah! I walk on the wild side. I laugh in the face of danger. Ha ha ha ha!” (Simba, The Lion King.) There’s something about danger that is intriguing to many. They say “Danger is my middle name,” as they jump out of airplanes, hurtle down a ski slope at 50mph, or climb a sheer rock cliff with nothing but a parachute for protection.

It’s one thing to choose danger; it’s another to have it thrust upon you. Police officers and firefighters are well equipped to walk into dangerous situations, but it isn’t something they seek out. Likewise with military soldiers stationed on a war-front. The whole reason they are there is to deal with danger, but it doesn’t mean that any of them look forward to bullets and RPG’s firing. That said, they might not want the danger, but the danger is still there. They still have to deal with it.

One might think that the danger would be less for people involved in gospel ministry – that it’s comprised of comfy offices, quiet studies, and peaceful devotions. That may be the case for pastors in America, but that isn’t the norm for pastors and missionaries around the world. For those Christians (men, women, and their children), gospel work is dangerous work. To preach the gospel in an area that is closed to it is to invite not only rejection, but persecution and even physical threats. Bible translators have had their homes raided & burned – pastors have been routinely jailed – missionaries have been kidnapped and held for ransom (if not shot & killed). That sort of danger is not the exception; it’s the norm all over the world. It is we here in the United States that have lived in the bubble of exception.

Even so, Christians in America are not totally immune. Although we rarely have physical threats made against us for our faith, legal threats are on the rise. Christians who are bakers, photographers, and others have been persecuted in the legal system, forced to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars in fines, many times designed at devastating their businesses and personal income. They aren’t alone. All Bible-believing & Bible-affirming Christians are in the same boat, and (if it hasn’t happened already) there will come a time when others will try to silence your testimony through threats and intimidation. 

What should we do when that happens? How should we respond? We respond as did Paul and Barnabas when facing their own threats and dangers: with boldness and determination. They were committed to the Lord Jesus, so they were bold for the Lord Jesus. He had given everything for them (and us); they were prepared to give everything for Him.

First things first: not every example of resistance we face is actually resistance to the gospel. Sometimes Christians face opposition because we’ve been unreasonable or unlikeable. It isn’t persecution if someone responds back to us for being jerks! On the contrary, it is only persecution when we suffer for doing good. We might speak the truth, yet speak it so obnoxiously that people aren’t rejecting Jesus; they’re rejecting us. That’s not persecution; that’s retribution (for right or wrong). Persecution is when people clearly see & hear Jesus in us, and clearly reject the Jesus we proclaim as they exclude, threaten, intimidate, or assault us. Persecution is what was faced by Paul and Barnabas almost on a daily basis, and specifically during their missionary journeys.

Our text picks up with Paul’s first missionary journey. The team of apostles had already travelled far from their hometown of Antioch of Syria, setting out first for the island of Cyprus & then back to the mainland of Asia minor. They soon arrived in Antioch Pisidia where Paul preached in the local synagogue, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah/Deliverer promised to Israel by God, and the One for whom God had so long prepared the nation. In response to the message, some believed; others did not. At that point, Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles, but the Jewish opposition caused so much trouble for them in the city that they were forced to leave. Even so, the local Christians were not deterred – they continued with Jesus and were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

That left Paul and Barnabas in the next city: Iconium. There, they would encounter much the same things they experienced earlier: preaching, some belief, Jewish opposition, and persecution. Danger accompanied the apostles everywhere they went, but they knew how to deal with it when it arose. They were determined to preach Jesus, no matter what. It didn’t matter where they preached the gospel; they were determined to preach it wherever God allowed.

How do we deal with dangers that arise for the sake of the gospel? By being determined to follow and preach Jesus, no matter what.

Acts 14:1–20

  • Danger from the religious (1-7)

1 Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.

  1. This was the same pattern that Paul and Barnabas had begun earlier, and it continued in Iconium. Because the Messiah was given first for Israel (though not only for Israel), and because Paul and Barnabas were themselves both Jews, they first presented the gospel to the local Jewish community. The easiest way to do that was to attend the local synagogue meeting on a Sabbath (Saturday), and be invited as a visiting rabbi to address the congregation. Luke gave a great example of this in Antioch Pisidia, but just summarizes the visit to the Lystra synagogue with a single sentence.
  2. And as before, it was successful. Notice that Jews and Greeks believed. It wasn’t that all Jews everywhere rejected the news of Jesus as Messiah – some Jews believed. In fact, in Iconium, it was “a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.” In every synagogue there were at least some Gentiles (Greeks) present, as some would have been fully converted to Judaism while others would have worshipped and feared the true God while stopping short of conversion. But it wasn’t only the Greeks who believed. Many Jews heard the words of Paul and Barnabas and came to faith. And why not? After all, Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, given in fulfillment to promises that God made to the Jews contained in the Jewish Scriptures. It only makes sense that Jews would come to faith! Paul and Barnabas (and all the original church) were Jewish – their countrymen were simply following in the same footsteps.
    1. Question: If that’s the case, why don’t all (or at least more) Jews believe today? First of all, some Jews do This is the reason there are Christian missionaries in Israel and other missionary organizations dedicated to Jewish evangelism all over the world. But admittedly, the number is small. Why is that? Part of it is the fulfillment of Scripture. As a whole, the nation of Israel is blinded to Jesus as the Messiah (Rom 11:7-10, Isa 6:9, Ps 69:22-23). They had their opportunity to receive Jesus once, and they rejected Him, sending Him to the cross. Thus, God has temporarily blinded them, taking the gospel to the other nations of the world until the day that God once again as mercy upon Israel, removes their blinders, and brings them to salvation (Rom 11:26). That’s one part.
    2. The other part is simply (and sadly) that some Jews are never told! By and large, Christians assume that Jews already have a religion that worships the true God, and they don’t need to be converted. Not so! Yes, they have the Scriptures, and yes, they worship the God of Abraham…but they worship Him wrongly. God came to them, revealing Himself to them in the Person of Jesus Christ, and they rejected Him. Right now, every unconverted Jew is in a state of rebellion against God, and they need to be converted in order to be saved. (Just like everyone else.) How many individual Jews would come to faith in Christ, if someone simply shared the gospel with them? We’ll never know if we never say anything.
  3. That’s not to say that all Some of the Jews caused problems…

2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.

  1. The Jews that rejected the gospel “stirred up” opposition. They incited the other Gentiles of the city who did not believe, rousing them up against the apostles. How so? Luke writes that they “poisoned” (embittered) the minds of the people against the Christians. If you’ve ever had someone spread spiteful rumors about you, you’ve experienced much the same thing. Your enemies poisoned the minds of other people against you, before you ever had the chance to defend yourself. That’s what the unbelieving Jews did against the Christians.
    1. In early apologetic writing, men like Tertullian wrote defenses of the church against terrible rumors and slander that persisted in the Roman empire against Christians. Believers were often accused of being cannibals (eating the flesh & blood of Christ in communion), but there were other wildly imaginative false rumors of murder, incest, and adultery. For the enemies of the church, lies did not need to have any basis in the truth – if they could get others to believe the false charges, that was enough.
    2. That much hasn’t changed. Enemies of the cross slander the church all the time, taking Scripture out of context and attributing false motives. They say Christians hate homosexuals (rather than the sin of sexual perversion), or that Christians are intolerant of other beliefs (whereas usually Christians are the ones who are excluded from protection). Don’t be surprised by the slander; be prepared for it. It doesn’t change our gospel mandate – it’s just the way things are, and the way things have always been.
  2. Don’t miss where this poisoning originated: “the unbelieving Jews.” The most religious people in town – the ones that would have agreed with Paul and Barnabas on all kinds of issues (the truth of the Scriptures, Biblical morality, etc.). The ones most like the apostles were those most opposed to the apostles. They were the ones to stir up problems and force them out.
    1. Sadly, some of the most fierce oppositions Evangelical Christians face today are from liberal churches. The most “religious” people around uphold the rumors and poisonous slander spread by others.
  3. What did Paul and Barnabas do in response to this opposition? Verse 3…

3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

  1. They stayed!” The apostles weren’t chased off; “they stayed there a long time.” They were determined and bold. It wasn’t the first time they had faced opposition, and it certainly was not going to be the last time. Paul and Barnabas accepted this sort of rejection as normal, and proceeded to keep preaching the gospel, apparently becoming even more bold as they did so.
    1. Our problem is that we don’t see opposition as normal. We see it as though something has gone wrong, when most likely the opposition has come because something went right. Think about it: why would those who hate Christ have a problem with people who never preach Christ? Of course there won’t be any opposition in that case, because there’s nothing to oppose. It is only when Jesus is clearly proclaimed that the followers of Jesus are rejected and persecuted. That’s when the enemies of the gospel take notice…and that is not the time to back down! If anything, that’s when our efforts should double as we speak even more boldly and freely about Jesus.
    2. Part of our problem is that we give up too soon! We might share Jesus with some, but the moment we get some pushback, we shut down. Don’t shut down; stand your ground! That’s the time to keep on sharing the Lord, embracing the fact that opposition is normal.
      1. Something that is often said in endurance sports is that successful competitors learn to embrace the pain. No one runs 26.2 miles (or 100+ miles!) without experiencing pain along the way – the question is how bad someone wants to finish. The determination to embrace what is normal is what makes one runner go faster or further than the person right next to him/her.
      2. We’re not talking masochism, but we are talking reality. The message of Jesus will be opposed. It always has been; it always will be. Embrace that reality as normal, and determine to keep preaching the message no matter what.
  • BTW – although the gospel is opposed by some, it’s not opposed by all. Remember that in the midst of all of this, Paul & Barnabas still saw people saved. How much opposition did they need to endure for one more citizen of Iconium to come to faith in Christ? For that person, it was worth it!
  1. Notice that Paul and Barnabas didn’t do all of this alone; Jesus was with them. The Lord Jesus Himself testified of the gospel message, “bearing witness to the word of His grace” through miraculous signs and wonders. Although it’s easy to get caught up in the miracles (and indeed, there is a miracle discussed in the next city), the best part of this isn’t the supernatural performance, but the supernatural presence of Christ. In His Great Commission, Jesus promised to be with His disciples always, to the end of the age (Mt 28:20), and that’s exactly what He does. He did not abandon Paul and Barnabas to the whims of Jewish opposition; while the apostles were doing their part of the Great Commission, Jesus was doing His.
    1. When we preach the gospel, we never do so alone! Know that Jesus is with you, the Holy Spirit is empowering you, and God the Father is strengthening you.

4 But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles.

  1. There was a schism in the city. On the one hand, some believed – on the other hand, some did not. The opposition brought on by the Jews had not stopped people from coming to faith in Jesus, and in time it soon became clear that the whole city was divided into two camps. This wasn’t something that the nonbelievers were content to let alone, as Luke soon describes.
  2. BTW: Note the plural “apostles.” We have no problem thinking of Paul as an apostle (for he frequently refers to himself in that way in his letters), but we sometimes don’t put Barnabas in that same category. Yet he was. Technically, an “apostle” simply is “one who is sent,” and could refer to any messenger or missionary, but the term is frequently used in a more specific manner for those who carry authority invested in them by Jesus to lead His church. There were the 12 who have a specific role, but the New Testament lists other apostles beyond the 12: Paul, Barnabas, James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19), Apollos (1 Cor 4:6-9), and others. They were not apostles in the same sense as the 12, but they were apostles, nonetheless. 

5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. 7 And they were preaching the gospel there.

  1. Not content to let the apostles preach the gospel to those who were ready to believe, those opposed to it (now comprised of “both Gentiles and Jews”) revolted. The schism/division had led to violent threats. True danger had erupted!
  2. Earlier, with the non-violent opposition, Paul & Barnabas stayed. This time, they left. Had they lost their bold determination? Not at all. This wasn’t cowardice; it was wisdom. Remember, Jesus told His disciples that if a town did not receive them or their message, they were to shake the dust off their feet & go somewhere else (Mt 10:14). That’s what had happened in Antioch Pisidia, and it happened again in Iconium. As long as the opportunity existed for Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel, they were determined to do so – but when the opportunity was gone, there was wisdom to leave.
    1. Unless God specifically commands us to do so, there’s no reason to stay in one place to share the gospel under physical threat. Why? Because there are always more places where we can share Jesus! It is not as if there is a lack of people who need to be saved – if one person doesn’t want to hear, just turn to the next person.
  3. Where were Lystra & Derbe? Lystra was 18 miles south of Iconium, whereas Derbe was another 35 miles southeast of Lystra. Obviously the apostles went to Lystra first, and Luke simply provides an overview of the rest of their trip. These other cities provided refuge, but not rest. Later, there would be opportunity for Paul & Barnabas to get some R&R; this was the time for work. They continued doing in Lystra what they had done in Iconium: preach the gospel. (Work while you have the chance!)
  4. Danger would follow soon enough…
  • Danger from the pagans (8-20)

8 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.

  1. Undeniable miracle! If the Lord Jesus had testified of the truth of the gospel earlier through signs & wonders, this was a powerful testimony in the city of Lystra. A lifetime of paralysis was instantly overcome by the power of Christ as Paul commanded the man to stand to his feet and be healed.
    1. If the scenario sounds familiar, it should. There are a number of parallels between this healing and Peter’s healing of the paralyzed man sitting in the temple gate in Acts 3. Both men were lame from their “mother’s womb” (Acts 3:2) – both Peter and Paul fixed their attention on the man (Acts 3:4) – both paralyzed men experienced immediate overwhelming healing, not only receiving strength but leaping to their feet and walking (Acts 3:8). Luke seems to take pains to intentionally draw the comparison between Peter and Paul, demonstrating both in their apostolic authority & underscoring the approval of God in their ministries.
  2. We know nothing about the man except his lifetime of paralysis, other than one thing: “he had faith to be healed.” Paul had not invited the man up front offering a healing that was not asked for, nor did the man have to be convinced of Jesus’ deity by the miracle. First he believed; then he was healed. Faith came first. This doesn’t always happen (the man at the temple gate wasn’t looking for a miracle when he received one), but it often does. First we believe, then we receive the results. Of course it doesn’t have to be a miracle – we are to have faith for everything for which we pray. Faith as small as a mustard seed in the will of God is enough to see mountains moved (Mt 17:20), but that faith needs to be used. Without faith, we’ll never ask, and we don’t receive what we never ask for (Jas 4:2). Faith comes first, and faith needs to be used. 
  3. That said, it isn’t faith for faith’s sake. We need to have faith in the right object. In this case, the paralyzed man had faith in Jesus. He heard the gospel through the preaching of Paul & Barnabas and believed – and apparently he believed so solidly that the Lord Jesus who had risen from the dead had the authority to do anything, that he also believed the Lord Jesus could heal even a life-long crippled man such as himself. The faith was already there; Paul simply had him exercise it. — Question: How can we be so certain that the man had already believed upon Jesus, and it was that faith that Paul saw? Because Luke makes it clear that the man had faith beyond a physical healing. Literally, the phrase could be translated: “he had faith to be saved.” The Greek word can be translated differently depending on the context, but it is a word most often used in the sense of salvation or rescue (sometimes physical, sometimes spiritual). This man had faith that Jesus could deliver him from his situation – he had faith to be saved. Paul gave him the opportunity to act on it.
    1. Faith needs to be exercised – it needs to be acted upon. Specifically, saving faith! How tragic it would be to acknowledge the truth of the gospel message about Jesus, and never act upon it by asking Jesus to forgive your sins and make you a child of God! Faith requires a response or action, so act! Exercise your faith and intentionally ask Jesus to save you. 
  4. It was a glorious miracle & got the attention of the crowd! Too bad it got the wrong kind of attention…

11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

  1. Terrible misunderstanding! The people saw the miracle, immediately understood that it was divine, but tragically fell back on their previous pagan understanding. Instead of attributing the healing to the One True God, they believed that Paul and Barnabas were themselves gods. Apparently, there was a local legend of the region being visited by Zeus and Hermes in the past, but the residents had not recognized them. With the miracle accomplished, the people leapt to the wrong conclusion and decided they were not going to miss “another” opportunity to recognize their pagan gods.
  2. The language barrier proved to be an obstacle here. Although the people surely spoke Greek (as it is doubtful that Paul or Barnabas spoke Lycaonian), they fell back into their local language when they got excited about the miracle. All of a sudden, they started speculating that Paul and Barnabas might be Hermes and Zeus (interesting reversal of leadership role!), and neither of the apostles seemed to grasp what was going on until the local pagan priest started bringing oxen for sacrifice. 
  3. Once the apostles saw the oxen, they knew exactly what was happening, and it grieved them…

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out

  1. The most important thing is what Barnabas and Paul said (notice the change in order, reflecting the Zeus and Hermes comparison), but notice also what they did: “the tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude.” This was a visible show of grief. Some words might get lost in translation, but certain actions are known worldwide. At that time in that part of the world, ripping ones clothes was universally known as a sign of despair & grief. Certainly among the Hebrews it was a common response to blasphemy, but the people of Lystra did not need to be Hebrews to see with their own eyes that the two men were greatly upset & distraught.
    1. Sometimes what we do carries as much (or more) weight as what we say. Actions speak volumes.

15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,

  1. The apostles were men, just like them. They weren’t gods – they were flesh & blood. We might say today, “I put on my pants the same as you: one leg at a time.” The apostles were used by God, but they were not gods. (Big difference!)
  2. The apostles weren’t to be worshipped. No idol was to be worshipped – those things were “useless.” They were empty, fruitless, worthless. Idols are idle. They are vain imaginations imposed upon rock & wood that are formed into statues. They cannot speak, cannot act, cannot do anything because they do not exist. This was exactly why Paul and Barnabas had come to them: to call them out of idolatry to the truth. The apostles called them to worship “the living God.” Unlike dead motionless statues, the real God is alive. The real God speaks and acts. The real God created the universe.
  3. Question: Why start with creation? Why not talk about Jesus? First of all, the apostles had been talking about Jesus. That was the only way the paralyzed man heard the gospel and had faith to be healed. Secondly, creation was a common starting point. The people had seen the miracle, understood it was a miracle brought on by divine power, but did not understand where the divine power originated. Paul & Barnabas had to back up to address these foundational things. If the people didn’t understand who God is, they would never be able to understand Jesus as the Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. IOW, without this basic understanding, they would never be able to be saved. Paul and Barnabas needed to start from scratch to get the people to see God as who He is if they were ever to have faith in who He is.
    1. Do we start with creation? When appropriate, yes. Obviously, we live in a different culture, and many of the people we speak to are monotheist in their fundamental beliefs, even when they believe wrongly about God. But other people don’t believe even that. Some don’t believe in any God, some believe in an impersonal god-force brought on by nature, and still others believe in multiple gods. With them, the fact of creation is a logical starting point. After all, anyone can turn 360 degrees and see things that exist; those things had to be made. Things that are made require a maker; our Maker is God. It’s that simple. We don’t need to feel as if unless we’re ready to debate the finer point of Darwinism, we aren’t prepared to share Jesus with our unbelieving neighbor. We simply need to point them to the Creator God, and identify God as who He is.
  4. That is who God is. What has He done? The apostles go on to say…

16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

  1. God is God, even when people don’t recognize Him as God. He demonstrates His mercy in all kinds of ways:
  2. God is merciful in judgment. Although He could immediately judge every single person in the world with their first sin against Him, He does not. He mercifully withholds His judgment, giving people innumerable opportunities to admit their sin, repent, and seek God’s grace and forgiveness. He mercifully “allowed all nations to walk in their own ways,” even though the one nation of Israel had the precise commands of God for how to live. God’s restraint from judgment of the other nations was not evidence that God wasn’t there; it was evidence that He was – it was evidence of His mercy.
  3. God is merciful in provision. God sends rain to the just & the unjust (Mt 5:45) and provides life, food, clothing, and breath to every man, woman, and child on the planet. There is not a person in this world of whom God is not aware, nor a person who is not utterly dependent upon God’s provision (whether or not they know it). Without God sending the rain, we would have no food – without God spinning our planet in the right position in our solar system, life could not exist. Without God granting life to a sperm and egg joined together, no human would ever be born. God has graciously given all kinds of provision to every person!
    1. This takes away the “What has God ever done for me?” objection. God has done everything! We would not have woken up this morning, if God had not granted it. God gives our hearts permission to beat, and our brains permission to function. We owe God everything.
  4. God’s mercy testifies of His goodness. “He did not leave Himself without witness.” If people want to know that God exists, all it takes is one thing: look around! God abundantly witnesses of Himself every day. Not only does creation testify to its Creator, but the sustaining of life testifies to its Sustainer. IOW, we not only exist because of God, but we continue to exist because of God. The witness of God in this world abounds!
  5. The bottom line: God’s mercy leaves us without excuse! This was the point Paul later wrote to the Romans, when mentioning many of the same things. Romans 1:20-21, “(20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (21) because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” It isn’t that God hasn’t left Himself without witness; it’s that people don’t want to acknowledge His witness. But the fact remains that He has witnessed of Himself, and men & women have no excuse not to seek His mercies.
    1. Thankfully, although we do not seek Him, He seeks us! This is the good news of Jesus!

18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.

  1. Sadly, the men of Lystra hardly listened to the words of Paul & Barnabas. They were just as determined (set) in their idolatry as were the apostles in the gospel. This was all they knew, and they refused to listen to anything else.
  2. It got worse…

19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

  1. Remember how far away Lystra was 18 miles away from Iconium, and over 100 miles away from Antioch Pisidia. For Jews to come all the way from Antioch and Iconium speaks volumes about their hatred of Paul and the gospel. Although we cannot say for certain that they followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra specifically to oppose them, there seems to be little reason to think otherwise.
  2. The arrival of the Jews turned a terrible misunderstanding into tragic violence. The crowds were fickle & easily persuaded. One minute they believed Barnabas & Paul to be gods; the next, they tried to stone the apostles to death. The multitude turned into a mob, being disappointed that the men weren’t the false gods the crowd thought they were, and the crowd viciously turned on them.
    1. Interestingly, it was Paul alone that was stoned & not Barnabas. We can’t say why – perhaps Barnabas was able to get out of the way, or perhaps the mob went after Paul as the main speaker. Regardless, there is no small irony in it. In Lystra, Paul endured the same torment that he had earlier endorsed for Stephen in Jerusalem. The two men were made brothers not only by their faith in Jesus, but also their sufferings for Jesus.
  3. What now? Paul was brutally beaten with stones & left for dead. Was everything over? Not quite…

20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

  1. Miraculous healing! Because Luke never specifically wrote that Paul died, we cannot definitely call this a resurrection, but there is no doubt there was a supernatural healing that took place. The people in Lystra who had come to faith in Christ gathered around Paul & surely prayed for him, and while they were there, Paul opened his eyes & was able to rise and walk.
    1. BTW: Although no names of the Lystra Christians are listed, it’s possible that Timothy was there. Lystra was home to Timothy & his family, and apparently, his grandmother Lois was the first to come to faith, then his mother Eunice, then him (2 Tim 1:5). There weren’t many Jews in Lystra (which seems to be why the apostles did not preach at a synagogue), but there was at least some Jewish presence – Timothy’s family being evidence.
  2. Miraculous resolve! Notice what happened when Paul got up: he went back – “he rose up and went into the city.” Granted, it’s not as if there were many other options (no local hospitals in surrounding towns), but one might think that if there was one place that Paul would not want to return to, it was the city where a mob just tried to kill him. The moment someone recognized him, he’d be in danger. Even so, Paul went back. Why? Because he trusted the Lord. God had surrounded him with other Christians & Barnabas was back in town – Paul knew he would be safe for the night. Even so, it was clear that it was time to move on, so the two apostles went to the next (and final) city on their journey.

Conclusion:

It was a dangerous time for the two apostles! Whether it was from the religious Jews of Iconium, or the pagans of Lystra, the lives of both Paul and Barnabas were put on the line. How did they deal with their dangers? Through determination. They had been sent there by Jesus, and they were determined to speak for Jesus, serving Jesus. Rejection and opposition simply came with the territory. As Paul later wrote, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Tim 3:12). They accepted this sort of persecution as normal (being a spiritual attack from a spiritual enemy) and were determined to follow Jesus, no matter what.

How do we deal with dangers for Jesus? Determination in Jesus. People will try to silence your testimony, and intimidate you away from evangelism. That isn’t an “if”; that is a certainty – in fact, it’s already happened. Don’t raise your hands, but how many of you have ever shied away from sharing your faith because you were sure how you would be received? How many of you had a clear opportunity to speak of Jesus, and didn’t do it? We’ve already been intimidated into silence! We might not experience the same physical threats as Paul & Barnabas (or of countless Christians around the world), but what we have faced has been effective. By & large, Christians (myself included) are often too timid to tell others the good news of Jesus. We don’t want to “offend” – we think it’s not the “right” time – we want to try to build more of a “bridge”…or pick another of countless excuses we use. We have been silent for Christ, pushed into it through the pressure of our culture.

The time for silence is over! Be bold – be determined for Jesus! We deal with dangers through determination. But it’s the right type of determination. It’s not the “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” attitude thinking that you’ve got enough in you to push through the difficulty. Rather, it’s the “I’m fully dependent upon Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit” attitude acknowledging our strength in Christ. It’s being dedicated to Jesus knowing that He gave everything for us, so we willingly surrender everything to Him. When it came to our salvation, Jesus held nothing back, enduring every danger – every beating, insult, strike of the whip, crown of thorns, and nail…He took the pure unfiltered wrath of God due to all sin throughout the history of all humanity upon Himself. Truly, Jesus gave all. Surely, we can do no less for Him. Relying upon His strength, we set our minds & determine to live as witnesses for Him everywhere we go, regardless of the cost.

Is this your determination? If not, why?

Who Receives Eternal Life?

Posted: December 30, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 13:42-52, “Who Receives Eternal Life?”

Who is it that receives eternal life? Who is the person that goes to heaven? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? That’s what everyone wants to know, to have assurance of, before death. At least, that’s what people ought to want to have assured before they die! Some people don’t give it a second thought, believing there’s no such thing as life after death. Yet they’re fooling themselves, trying to silence the witness of their own conscience, which testifies to them of an eternity beyond what we currently see. Others certainly believe in life beyond the grave, but they think everyone goes to heaven. After all, God is loving, and because He doesn’t want people to suffer eternal punishment, He allows everyone into heaven (as long as they aren’t mass murderers, Nazis, or anything like that). Again, they’re fooling themselves. The Bible allows no room for error on this point: some go to heaven; others go to hell. God certainly wants everyone to be saved, and through Jesus, God has made every provision for people to be saved…but not everyone is saved. Whenever Jesus spoke about hell (which was quite often!), He always spoke of it as populated. The invitation to eternal life in heaven is wide-open, but the way is narrow & few enter.

So who does enter? Who goes to heaven, receiving eternal life? That’s what people want, and we need to know how to get there. How terrible it would be to live one’s entire life with the hope of heaven, only to find out that you’ve been wrong! In fact, Jesus specifically said that will be the case for many! People put their hopes in their good deeds, their religious piety, their giving, and (for some) even in miracles they believe they’ve performed or received. Yet eternal assurance is found in none of these things. Quoting Jesus: Matthew 7:21–23, “(21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Can you imagine the shock of those hearing those words? The terror & dismay? To think that all in which you trusted (your miracles, your deeds, etc.) were all for nothing…how awful! What we need is assurance, real assurance that we have truly received eternal life and our fears can finally be laid to rest.

How can we know? That is exactly what is shown in the book of Acts as Paul and Barnabas wrap up their time in Antioch Pisidia. The gospel had been clearly preached, and the response to it was equally clear: some rejected & some rejoiced. Those who rejected it demonstrated themselves unworthy of eternal life, while those who rejoiced in it showed that they had been appointed to eternal life. What’s your response to the message of Jesus: jealousy or joy? Do you abandon Jesus or abide in Him? That response gives all of the confirmation you need.

Remember what led to this point… Paul and Barnabas were in the middle of their first missionary journey. Having been called and set apart by the Holy Spirit for the ministry, their home church in Antioch of Syria prayed over them & sent them out. They began by sailing to the island of Cyprus, where eventually Paul took leadership of the team and preached the gospel to the governor and his court. From the very beginning, Paul and Barnabas encountered Jewish opposition, at this point from a Jewish “sorcerer” who was a chief advisor to the governor. Paul pronounced supernatural judgment upon the man (who was temporarily blinded), the governor came to faith, and the missionary team moved back to the mainland. They soon arrived in Antioch Pisidia where they went to the local synagogue & Paul (as a visiting rabbi) was invited to speak.

Paul took the opportunity to preach the gospel, showing how through the centuries God had prepared Israel for a deliverer & Messiah, and that this Messiah was seen to be Jesus. This was the fulfillment of prophecy, and the expectation of the ages. Jesus offered true forgiveness from sin, and the opportunity to be made righteous in God’s sight – something that every Jew knew was impossible to do through the law of Moses. Paul closed with a warning: they had heard of the work of God; they weren’t to reject it through unbelief.

What now? Like any worship service in church, the synagogue meeting came to a close. Paul was known to preach for lengthy periods of time, but not even Paul would preach forever! The gospel was preached, an invitation was given, and people went home. What they would do with the message afterward…that was the question. What some heard and were receptive to in the moment, they may not be so receptive to later on. It is one thing to hear the gospel; it is another to continue in it. Not everyone would continue, and Paul and Barnabas would take the message to those who would.

It isn’t enough to hear the gospel of Jesus; we must remain in it, continually abiding in joy. What is your response to the message of Jesus? Are you joyful to continue in what He has begun, or are you jealous of His goodness ready to forsake all? Don’t reject the good news; receive it & remain in it with joy!

Acts 13:42–52

  • Who is unworthy of eternal life? (13:42-46)
  • Initial response: openness (42-43)

42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

  1. Not a bad way to begin: the initial response was good! Paul preached, the service closed, and the people were already hungry to hear more. Nearly any preacher would want to see the same sort of immediate response! The NKJV & KJV read a bit different than other versions at this point, distinguishing the Jews from the Gentiles, whereas the NASB, ESV & others simply say “the people.” Per the available manuscripts, the textual evidence leans towards the generic language of the NASB & ESV. Very soon, there would be a sharp distinction between the response of the Jews and the Gentiles, but at this point, all the people who attended synagogue that day (Jew & Gentile God-fearer alike) seemed to be excited about the message preached by Paul. They “begged” to hear the message again, or rather, more along the same lines of what Paul had already preached. They had gotten a taste of the gospel, and they wanted more.

43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

  1. Some Jews believed! Although it wasn’t universal among the entire synagogue congregation, some of those who heard (whether from Jewish background or Gentiles who were either God-fearers or who actually converted to Judaism) “followed Paul and Barnabas,” presumably in faith wanting to hear more about Jesus. Paul may have been scheduled to speak again at the next Saturday Sabbath synagogue service, but they didn’t want to wait that long. They followed the two apostles out the door, excited of what they might next hear.
    1. And why not? The gospel of Jesus is exciting! After all, it’s “good news,” with the emphasis on “good.” Paul had just told them how God had sent the Messiah, the One Man for whom all Israel waited & the One to whom all the Scriptures pointed from Genesis onward. For centuries, the people of Israel had waited for the One who would right everything that went wrong in the Garden of Eden, Who would be a blessing to all the nations, Who would restore the Kingdom to its glory (and more!) ruling from Jerusalem over all the world. More than that, Paul told them that this Messiah could provide for them forgiveness from every sin, and justify them in the sight of God. Every Jew knew that he/she was insufficient to keep the law – that he/she was constantly guilty, never able to fully live up to God’s standard of perfection. But now that standard had been kept by the Messiah – proven in the fact that He rose from the dead. No wonder that some of the Jews & proselytes were excited! This was good news, indeed!
    2. It’s good news to everyone! Think about it: we all inherently know that we’re sinners. After all, how many of us have said, “No one’s perfect.” We know we’ve failed – we don’t have to rack our memories for examples of how we’ve royally messed things up. One of the first lessons our parents teach us is how to apologize, and it’s something none of us have ever gotten used to or done enough. We can’t ever truly make something right again. But then we hear of Jesus! Jesus makes us right – Jesus truly forgives us our sin – Jesus does for us what we could never do for ourselves: make us innocent in the sight of God. This is good news! Why wouldn’t we get excited about that? Who wouldn’t want to hear more?
      1. Of course some don’t, and it’s usually those who don’t want to believe that they are accountable to Almighty God. But we are, and for those who admit the obvious, the news of Jesus is wonderfully good!
    3. Notice what Paul and Barnabas said to them: they “persuaded them [the Jews and proselytes] to continue in the grace of God.” These people who were so excited about Jesus needed to remain in the gospel – to be firmly planted and grounded in faith in Christ. They had started out well – now they needed to continue in the same direction. At this point it seemed as if they believed (and some of them probably had), but after such a short period of time it was impossible for Paul and Barnabas to know for sure. This wasn’t the time to start talking “once saved, always saved,” because there wasn’t any evidence yet that any of them were There was a group of people excited after a single sermon from Paul. Some of them might have been saved, but neither Paul nor Barnabas could know that for certain. The Holy Spirit gives assurance; people don’t, and prayers don’t. We praise God when someone prays a prayer of salvation, but we cannot put any assurance into that prayer; salvation comes from Jesus alone when a person places his/her faith in Him. That isn’t always known from a single prayer, but it’s definitely known over time.
      1. It isn’t the initial response to the gospel that shows if someone is saved; it is how/if the person continues. Jesus made this point with the Parable of the Soils (often called the Parable of the Sower). A farmer sowed his seed, with it falling on four types of ground/conditions (birds, rocks, thorns, good ground). Jesus explained it this way: Matthew 13:18–23, “(18) Therefore hear the parable of the sower: (19) When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. (20) But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; (21) yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. … (22) Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (23) But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Notice the most obvious part of the parable: 3 out of 4 soils did nothing. The first group didn’t have a chance to sprout into faith at all because of the work of the devil. The second and third actually seem to do something at first, but it doesn’t last. Only the last group grows into maturity and bears fruit. Only the last group is saved. Only one group heard the gospel (the seed) and continued with it; all the others did not.
      2. The test for someone’s salvation is not whether they prayed the sinner’s prayer as a child; it’s whether they’ve continued with Jesus into the rest of life. This is hard news for many to hear, because we so badly want our loved ones to be saved (and maybe even ourselves!). But we only have real assurance of salvation when we have a solid foundation for assurance. That isn’t based in an initial response in the past; it’s based in current trust in Jesus.
  • Later response: jealousy/opposition (44-45)

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.

  1. On one hand, there was good news. Apparently, what had happened in the synagogue was made known, and spread quickly to virtually whole city. Everyone heard, and they wanted to hear more. Quite a crowd gathered, mostly comprised of Gentiles, and soon the multitudes were so large there was no way they could fit inside the doors.
  2. But that brought out the bad news. The Jews of the synagogue (probably the local leaders) saw the crowds of Gentiles and were none too happy. “They were filled with envy,” being jealous at the attention given to Paul & Barnabas, and seemingly envious that common Gentiles might hear the message of their own Jewish Messiah. This was their hope from their Scriptures, and they didn’t want it going out to people who weren’t like them. They especially didn’t want these people listening to the foreign preachers from Antioch of Syria. If the Gentiles were to listen to anyone, it ought to be the local rabbis.
    1. Jealousy is a terrible thing, being solidly based in pride. We can be zealous in a good way, wanting the truth of Jesus to be clear, wanting the best for people and the glory of God – but human jealousy is ego-driven, wanting to please ourselves. In this case, the envy/jealousy of the Jews caused them to do terrible things.
  3. They opposed Paul & Barnabas, “contradicting and blaspheming” the apostles and their message. Even though they might have been glad to hear it the week before, now they wanted nothing to do with it. Granted, these may have been different Jews than the ones who followed Paul & Barnabas out of the synagogue, but there’s no way to know without further information from Luke. At the very least, it is clear that Paul and Barnabas were initially invited back to the synagogue to speak again; now that invitation has been totally revoked. The leaders who were so gracious to Paul at first now vehemently opposed him & everything he said. Considering the things he said were about Jesus, their opposition carried eternal danger! To contradict the gospel is to stand in the way of the gates of life! Although the word is literally “blaspheming,” contextually this could probably be translated “slandered.” Even so, if they spoke against Paul’s message about Jesus, then they engaged in blasphemy, by definition.
  • Judgment (46)

46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

  1. They showed boldness in the face of hatred. Opposition from the Jewish leadership did not cause them to back off or water down the word of God. For some, it might have caused them to do so – people don’t want to offend or make waves, so when there is opposition, then people want to take back anything they might have said to cause the offense. After all, we just want to get along, right? Not always. Yes, we need to seek for peace among one another, and as much as it depends on us, we should live in peace with all men (Rom 12:18). And yes, if we should cause undue offense with someone else, we ought to drop everything and be reconciled with our brother/sister before bringing our offerings & worship to God (Mt 5:23-24). But that applies to everything except the gospel and word of God. The gospel of Jesus is itself an offense to others, a “stone of stumbling and rock of offense,” (1 Pt 2:8). Although we need not be offensive in presenting it, people will be offended when it’s presented. There simply isn’t any getting around it. It doesn’t give us a license to be a jerk about it, but we cannot back down from the truth. Like Paul & Barnabas, we must be bold, even when people are offended and oppose our message. The two apostles spoke freely & fearlessly about Jesus and the judgment promised to those who reject Him. That message was (and is!) too important to water down in timidity.
  2. What the Jews didn’t realize was what they were rejecting. It was a privilege to hear the good news of the Messiah! This was the promise of God that He had given to the Hebrews, which was what “it was necessary” that the gospel be spoken first to the Jews in the city. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the prophets. Why wouldn’t the gospel first go to the Jews? God had been faithful to His word, and His people should be the first to know it. Although Jesus ministered to everyone He met (Jew, Samaritan, Gentile), His first ministry was to Israel, and He specifically said so. He was sent to the “lost sheep of Israel,” (Mt 15:24) because He is the Messiah of Israel, the King of Israel. Thus, it was a glorious privilege for the Jews in Antioch Pisidia to hear the gospel of Christ. Paul and Barnabas had been perfectly obedient to bring it to them before taking it to anyone else.
  3. The problem was that the Jews of Antioch Pisidia (by and large) didn’t want it. They rejected it, repelling it as if it was some unclean toxic thing to be cast away. Imagine! The best news ever presented to mankind, graciously given to the men of this synagogue, and they despised it. Instead of drinking in the Living Water, they spat it out as if it were mud. Consider the privilege of receiving a special gift, like a family in a third-world nation giving you all the food that they have & then casting it on the ground as garbage right in front of them. How could we treat such a gift with such disdain? Yet that’s exactly what people do when they reject the gift of the gospel. If the queen of England presented a special medal to you, you would at least treat it with great respect, even if you didn’t understand why the queen of England would want anything to do with you. People who reject the gospel know what God offers, and they still treat it like garbage. It is a terrible insult. It’s no wonder that Paul declared that the Jews of Antioch Pisidia judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.
    1. To answer the original question, this is exactly who cannot receive eternal life. The person who knowingly rejects Jesus has already judged him/herself unworthy of salvation. No one is ever worthy of salvation – that is something reserved solely for Christ Jesus. Apart from Him & His grace, we deserve nothing but His wrath because of our repeated sins against God. But to hear of His grace and still reject Him…how much worse! That person is truly hopeless.
  4. If not the Jews of Antioch Pisidia, then who? The Gentiles…
  • Who is appointed to eternal life? (13:47-52)
  • Gospel to the Gentiles (47-48)

47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

  1. Paul quotes Isaiah: Isaiah 49:6, “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “ From the beginning, God’s plan for the Messiah as His Servant was to redeem Israel, regather them together as a glorious kingdom, and to do marvelous things for God. But as great as that was, it was still rather small – thus, God’s plan for the Messiah was always for Him to go to the Gentiles. The Messiah would be their light as well, giving the nations of the world the chance to receive of God’s gracious salvation. – Paul’s point? If the Jews of Antioch Pisidia rejected the message of God’s Messiah, there were other people there who could hear of Him. Paul had been faithful to take the gospel first to the Jews, but the gospel was never meant only for the Jews. The gospel is for the entire world.
    1. FYI: This would be Paul’s pattern in every city he preached. For him to say that he was turning to the Gentiles was not a blanket statement for entire ministry; he was only turning to the Gentiles in that city at that time. In other cities, he’d go first to the Jews until they rejected him, and only afterwards take the gospel to the Gentiles. (The only exception was when he was in a city with little to no Jewish presence.) This would be his pattern through his entire life.
  2. Bottom line: Jesus is God’s plan of salvation for everyone – “to the ends of the earth!” Every nation, every race…everyone. Not a single person is off-limits from the message of Jesus. Jews need to hear, so take the gospel to the Jews. Muslims need to hear, so take the gospel to the Muslims. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists – all of them need to hear, and none are off-limits. Atheists & agnostics in the United States – even pew-sitting “Christians” in the Bible Belt…if they don’t truly know Jesus, then they need to hear His good news of grace!
    1. Practically, do you know what that does? It takes away the guessing game of whether you need to share with the person next to you at work or stuck in line. You never need to question, “I wonder if they need to hear?” The answer is yes! If he/she is breathing, then he/she needs Jesus! Skin color doesn’t matter, financial status doesn’t matter, religious background doesn’t matter…operate under the assumption that the person needs the gospel, because he/she does!

48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

  1. The Gentiles were glad & ready to believe! Of course they would be glad! After all, the message of God’s salvation was not restricted to a certain nation or race. The Jews were God’s chosen people as a nation to preserve His promises, but they were not the only people God chose to be saved. Anyone who has received Jesus as Lord & Savior has been chosen by God – anyone who believes upon Jesus has been truly saved. That’s glad news – that’s news of which we can glorify God! Have you ever thought yourself cut off from an opportunity, only to have the door swung open for you? That’s this, to the infinite degree! The rest of the world thought ourselves cut off from the love & grace of God, but through Jesus, the door is swung wide open! We, who were once enemies of God, who didn’t even have any access to God, now have access to His goodness & grace. We can be saved! Praise the Lord!
    1. You can be saved! It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve come from. It doesn’t matter if you have loads of cash or barely 2 pennies. It doesn’t matter if you’re a drug-addict or a goodie-two-shoes. You can be saved! You have access to the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Be glad! Glorify God, and believe!
  2. As for these particular Gentiles, they were saved! “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The word for “appointed” could be translated “arranged, put in place, etc.” One dictionary notes: “Its first meaning is military: to draw up troops in a battle array and so to post or station them.” (NIDNTT) The idea is like God as the Commander, and He has His strategy already planned. He takes His people and places them where He wants them – in this case, to eternal salvation and life. Paul and Barnabas preached the message, and the people believed the words as they were preached, but it was God who saved them. He had a plan for them to be saved, and He saw it through. God appointed these people to eternal life, because God always takes the initiative in our salvation. He sees us, knows us, loves us, and calls us to be saved. He knew us from before the foundation of the world. This is the plain teaching of the Bible. We see it in Romans 8:29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be firstborn among many brethren.” We see it in Ephesians 1:4-5, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” And of course, we see it here in Acts 13:48 in the writing of Luke. God knew these people, appointed them to eternal life, and they believed.
    1. Does this prove Calvinism true? No – because that isn’t the question the Scripture is answering. The debate over Calvinism (and their version of predestination) didn’t arise for another 1500 years, and even Augustine’s ideas of predestination didn’t exist for nearly 400 years after Luke’s writing. We need to be careful not to put words in the mouths of the Biblical authors, not imposing our theological ideas upon them.
    2. So what can we say about this verse & the idea as a whole? As much as the Bible does: “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” People were appointed to life, and those appointed believed. It doesn’t tell us how or why they were appointed, or what was involved in God’s mind when appointing these people to life. It doesn’t say how or why; it only says the “what”: they were appointed, and they believed. God appointed them, and people exercised their belief. What more needs to be said? Any attempt to go back into the recesses of eternity is an attempt to see things we cannot dare to comprehend. When we try to systematize and categorize the infinite mind of the infinite God, we’re inevitably going to end up in error. (We will cut Him short in some way!) The solution? Simply believe what the Bible simply teaches: God appoints & saves from His will, and we believe the gospel exercising the will of our own. The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the freewill of Man, so this is what we must believe.
  3. With all that said, don’t miss the main point: people believed & were saved! That’s not something to get our knickers in a twist over how it happened; that’s something in which we can rejoice that it did happen! And it wasn’t just people in that city…
  • Jewish opposition (49-50)

49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

  1. The gospel spread, but so did Jewish opposition. Like Mary and her little lamb, everywhere Paul & Barnabas went, the Jewish leaders were sure to go. Even where there weren’t large influential synagogues, the Jews went to the influential leaders of the cities (men & women, the women listed first, interestingly enough…they seemingly held the most power) and poisoned their minds against the apostles. Soon, Paul and Barnabas weren’t welcome in Pisidia at all, much less the city of Antioch. It hadn’t stopped the apostles from sharing the gospel, but soon there was no opportunity for them to share at all.
  • Christian determination (51-52)

51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

  1. What Paul and Barnabas experienced was precisely the thing about which Jesus warned His disciples. He used the same words when sending His disciples on a short-term mission trip into Judea. Matthew 10:14–15, “(14) And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. (15) Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” Some people would be glad to hear the gospel of the kingdom & receive the disciples into their homes; others would not. Others wouldn’t want to hear at all, and would even oppose the message. What did Jesus tell the 12 to do? Shake off the dust, and keep moving. Those who preached had already done their duty – they had warned the people of the wrath to come and invited them to receive of the grace of God in Jesus. Those who rejected bore their own judgment, having invited it upon themselves. Likewise in the situation with Paul, Barnabas, and the Jews of Antioch Pisidia. They had proclaimed Jesus faithfully, until they no longer had the opportunity to do so. At that point, they left. Knock off the dust, symbolically remove even the traces of the city, and move on.
    1. As Christians, we need to be ready to preach, be ready for opposition, and be ready to move on. I find it funny that I sometimes still get surprised when people actively oppose the gospel. It shouldn’t be surprising at all…Jesus told us to expect it! “If the word hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you,” (Jn 15:18). It’s tough to get clearer than that! Some people will listen, others won’t…that’s the reality. Our responsibility is to share – to preach, speak, and tell others of Jesus. We cannot convince. If they don’t want to hear, move on to others who do.
    2. Christians sometimes spend far too much time debating those who don’t want to hear. Better to spend our time sharing Jesus with someone ready to listen.
  2. If the apostles moved on to the next city (Iconium, 90 miles away), what did the new Christians back in Antioch Pisidia do? They rejoiced! Even with all the opposition all around them, they rejoiced in their newfound faith and stood firm by the power of the Holy Spirit. Opposition from others didn’t slow them down – the new reality of persecution did not make them fall away from Jesus. They did not fear in their faith; they rejoiced! They were filled to the brim with joy & the Holy Spirit. How so? The two things go hand-in-hand. When a Christian is standing firm in faith, being constantly filled with God the Holy Spirit, that Christian is going to have joy. How could he not? God gives us the peace that is beyond understanding – God gives us the strength we need when we are weak – God gives us comfort, because Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would give it. When we have all of that by the grace of God, then of course we will rejoice! It doesn’t matter how much opposition we might face or persecution we experience – it doesn’t matter how many people make fun of us or reject our message. It doesn’t mean those things feel great at the time (a loss of a friend is still a loss), but at the end of the day we still have joy! We have joy because we have Jesus, and Jesus is enough.
  3. To look at it from another perspective, notice that the Jews and Gentiles who truly believed the gospel did exactly what Paul and Barnabas originally told the Jews & Gentile God-fearers & proselytes of the synagogue to do: they continued in the grace of God. (13:43) The seed that had been sown within their hearts had fallen on good ground, and the evidence was in their abiding faith and joy given by the Holy Spirit.
    1. This again, takes us back to the original question: Who can receive eternal life? How do we know if we have been appointed to eternal life? Answer: It is those who abide in Jesus. It is not only those who start with Jesus, but those who stay with Jesus. Can it begin with a single prayer? Yes, and it often does! But it doesn’t remain only a single prayer – it continues throughout a person’s life. This takes us out of the whole debate between Calvinism & Arminianism, and puts us squarely back into the text of Scripture. Jesus calls us to abide in the Himself as the Vine (Jn 15:4) – John writes that we are to remain/abide in Christ (1 Jn 2:6), continually remaining in the gospel (1 Jn 2:24) – Peter writes of making our call & election sure through the outworking of our faith (2 Pt 2:5-10). All of this speaks of current, ongoing faith – abiding faith – faith that starts in Jesus & stays in Jesus. The person who has that kind of faith is the person who has sound assurance of eternal life.

Conclusion:

Out of the people who heard Paul & Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia, which ones were saved? The ones appointed to eternal life – the ones who responded with joy to the gospel, believing it – the ones who continued in the grace of God. It wasn’t their religious background that determined their eternity (most of them had none!), and it wasn’t their good deeds (they barely had time to demonstrate any); it was simply their faith – their continuing, ongoing, joyful faith. They had begun with Jesus, and they remained with Jesus no matter what.

Others heard and were glad for a time, but quickly fell away. Their leaders became jealous, believing they had all they already needed and didn’t want anyone else to hear of God’s grace, especially not from the apostles. They stood in the way of others hearing of the grace of God, despising the gift that had been granted to them as the people of Israel. In the end, they proved themselves unworthy of eternal life.

No one is worthy of being in heaven with Jesus, but we can be assured of it. It all hinges on the grace of God, and our response to it. What’s yours?

So many people question their eternity, wondering if they are truly saved. And that question isn’t necessarily a bad thing! No one wants to get to Judgment Day and discover that they were wrong! Paul wrote to the Corinthians to examine themselves & see if they were truly in the faith (2 Cor 13:5) & again, Peter wrote to his readers to make their call & election sure (2 Pt 2:10). Of all the things we assume in life, this is not one of them. We want to be sure.

The good news is that we can be. When we receive Jesus with joy, and stay in Him, the Bible promises us wonderful assurance! 1 John 5:11–13, “(11) And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. (12) He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (13) These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

Christian, have you questioned? Do you live in a place of uncertain doubt? You can know that you have been appointed by Almighty God to everlasting life simply by looking at your current faith. If your hope is in Jesus, and nothing but Jesus, praise God! That’s exactly what you want it to be.

If not…then you don’t have that assurance. If you’ve been trusting in other things to guarantee your salvation, you’re not saved. If you’ve been trusting in a single prayer you recited in the past, but not walking with Jesus in the present, you’ve got no guarantee. If you’ve let the things of this world choke out your initial start with Jesus, then you’re just like many of those who heard the gospel from Paul & Barnabas. Don’t start & sputter out; start with Jesus & stay with Jesus.

The Word of Salvation

Posted: December 16, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 13:26-41, “The Word of Salvation”

Good news! The Christmas season is all about good news. Not the good news of worldly stuff, like savings on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or anything like that…it’s about glad tidings of great joy announced by the angel to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. It was news that a Savior had been given – a Savior to all the world, starting with the Jews and proceeding to the nations – a Savior because the world needed saving, and the reason the news was so good was because it was news of salvation…a word of salvation.

That word is proclaimed not only during the Christmas season, but all year long. The good news of Jesus is the news that is (or ought to be) on the lips of every Christian every day, for it is the news that forever changed our lives & destinies, and it can do the same for any single person anywhere, no matter their past. Anyone who is lost (which is everyone!) can be forever forgiven and saved by the work of God – something that can never be done through the work of men or women – all because of Jesus’ work on the cross…something that was prophesied through all the Bible during all the ages.

Again, that wasn’t just preached by the angels, or the shepherds, or even only the 12 original disciples of Jesus – this is something preached by all Christians, including (and especially) the apostle Paul. This was the message he passed to both Jews and Gentiles, anytime he was given the opportunity to do so. 

We get a glimpse of that message as Luke gives Paul’s first recorded sermon as he spoke in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia. Remember this wasn’t Paul’s first sermon ever (he had been preaching for years in Damascus, Jerusalem, Tarsus, and Antioch of Syria) – but this was the first sermon of Paul’s that Luke provides in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas were engaged in their first missionary journey together, having been sent out by the direct command of God the Holy Spirit. They began by travelling to the island of Cyrus (the original home of Barnabas), where they traversed the island preaching the gospel, eventually ending up in the capital city of Paphos where they encountered harsh opposition from the Jewish sorcerer Bar-Jesus/Elymas. Paul boldly confronted him to his face, declaring him temporarily blinded because of his attempt to blind the governor to the good news of Jesus. The governor/proconsul came to faith, and the journey of Paul & Barnabas continued.

They returned to the mainland, where Barnabas’ nephew John Mark left them, but the remainder of the group kept on in faithfulness eventually arriving in the major city of Antioch Pisidia where they got the opportunity to address the congregation of Jews in the local synagogue on their Sabbath day (Saturday) gathering. Speaking as the trained Pharisee and rabbi that he was, Paul began by showing how God prepared the Jews to look for the Messiah as their future deliverer. God Himself performed many acts of deliverance in the past. God raised up various judges and kings to act as temporary deliverers. And through the prophets and their prophecies, God declared Jesus as the Deliverer, most recently through John the Baptist. The only thing left for the Jews was to believe.

So what now? Paul’s not done preaching yet! Thus far, he has only introduced the pattern of deliverance, and the name of the Deliverer. Now he preaches the actual message of deliverance: the word of salvation. He declares what it is – he shows it prophesied in the Bible – and he implores people to respond. The word of God’s salvation through Jesus is clearly shown and declared – listen closely, and believe!

Acts 13:26–41

  • The gospel (26-32). What is the word of salvation?

26 “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.

  1. If it seems as if Paul’s declared audience is somewhat narrow, it’s because it was. Remember that Paul and Barnabas were actually preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, during their normal time of gathering and worship. Culturally, the only people who would be present were the Jewish men of the community, along with other God-fearing Gentile men who believed the truth of the Scriptures, but had not formally converted to Judaism. It’s not that Paul would preach any differently to Jewish women or to people from other nations; it’s just that Paul spoke to the people who were physically present at the time: Jewish men & God-fearers.
  2. That said, the gospel was sent first to the Jews. Paul spoke to the “sons of the family of Abraham…to you this word of salvation has been sent.” The news of Jesus went first to the Jews, and only afterwards, out to the world. Think of it: where did the vast majority of Jesus’ ministry take place? In Judea & Galilee, among the people of Israel. Yes, there were times He went into Samaria, and on at least one occasion Jesus went further north to Tyre (Mt 15:21-28), but that wasn’t the bulk of where He went. Jesus ministered in Judea, among the Jews. Sure, if Gentiles happened to be there, they benefited (like the Roman centurions), but He was sent first to the “lost sheep of Israel,” (Mt 10:6, 15:24). Why? Because it was to Israel that the promises of the Messiah were given. It was Israel who was entrusted with the Scriptures. It was Israel who knew to look for the Savior & Deliverer of God, and God has specifically promised them a Savior. So that’s where Jesus went. As Paul would later write to the Romans: Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Praise God that the gospel (good news) of Jesus is the power of God to save for everyone, but this news is first delivered to the Jews because Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the Son of David, the rightful King of Israel.
    1. Question: Does that mean anything for the rest of us as Gentiles? Absolutely! It means that God keeps His word! If He kept His word to the disobedient rebellious nation of Israel regarding Jesus, what does that mean for the rest of us? He’ll keep His word for us, too! It means when He declares us saved, we are truly saved – it means that when He says we are His children, we are! Praise God that Jesus was given first to the Jews in fulfillment of God’s promises…may we now pray that they would see Jesus as their Messiah and partake of His salvation!
  3. And that is the key in regards to this message to the Jews about Jesus. What Paul shared with them is the “word of salvation.” What good news! To those who need to be saved, God has provided news that He saves. And guess what? We all need to be saved! Even the Jews listening to Paul, who had a millennia-old covenant relationship with Almighty God still needed to be saved. Yes, God had made promises to Abraham, Moses, and David, and the people of Israel were His people, but the individual people still needed to be saved. Individually, the Jews listening to Paul were as lost as any Gentile that they might meet on the street. There was no one who did not need to be saved by God (totally forgiven of their sin, and brought into an eternal personal relationship with God), so they needed to hear a word of salvation.
    1. So do we! We are lost. Not a person alive today has what it takes to walk into heaven on his/her own merits. One of the most common heresies in America is one of the oldest: that good works save. People believe that so long as the good outweighs the bad, they will be fine on the day of judgment – they believe that so long as they have good intents in their hearts, that God will see those things and welcome them into heaven. It may be commonly believed, but it is totally wrong. Not a single person is saved because of his/her good works, because we have none! Even the best things that we do are tainted by the bad things we have already done. A murderer may be a nice guy 99% of his life, but it doesn’t lessen the seriousness of his single crime. Now imagine dozens of sins all through the day, committed every single day throughout our whole lives…no amount of our “good” deeds could ever erase that! The only thing that can is the singular deed of the Savior: when Jesus died on the cross as the penalty for our sin, and rising again from the grave. We need to be saved, and Jesus provides the work of saving…this is the word of salvation!
  4. The word had been “sent,” but it didn’t mean that the word was believed. That’s what Paul goes on to preach…

27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.

  1. The word of salvation was first sent to the Jews, but the Jews of the day rejected the Messiah. “Those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers” were the ones crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion. They were the ones who saw the many miracles and refused to believe. Among them, Jesus healed the lame, cleansed the lepers, turned water into wine, multiplied bread and fish, and even raised the dead – yet although many followed Jesus for a time, it was only temporary. In the end, only 11 apostles of Jesus, along with some women and a handful of others, believed. All of the rest rejected Him. They had the word of salvation proclaimed – they had the living Word of God walking among them – and He was not believed. “They did not know Him” because they chose not to know Him.
  2. And it was a choice! The Jews had no excuse to reject Jesus, not only because of the miracles done in their midst, but because of “the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath.” They had the written testimony of God right in front of them, and it pointed directly to Jesus. Just like the Jews of Antioch Pisidia who read from the prophets during their Sabbath day synagogue worship, so did the Jews of Jerusalem, Capernaum, and elsewhere. They could read for themselves how the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10), how He would be born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), how He would be filled with the Spirit and do miracles (Isa 61:1-3), how He would teach with the authority of Moses (Deut 18:18), how He would suffer as the national sacrifice (Isa 53), and much more. Literally hundreds of prophecies speak of the Jewish Messiah, and each one finds its fulfillment in Jesus. The Jews had zero excuse not to believe.
    1. We have even less! We may not have the ancient relationship with God as did Israel, but we have far more than the prophecies sent to the Hebrews in the Old Testament; we have the entire We see the fulfillment of the prophecies of the past, the current testimony of the present, and have even more prophecies of the future. We have the historical proof of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and the testimony of untold multitudes who have received Jesus as their Risen Lord. For someone to see all of this evidence, yet still be unbelieving is because of their choice not to believe. All excuses are gone; make the right choice!
  3. In grand irony (and in demonstration of God’s sovereignty), the Jewish rejection of Jesus only further fulfilled the prophecies about Him. As Paul said to the synagogue, the Jews “have fulfilled them in condemning Him.” For Jesus to save, He had to go to the cross and die, and for Jesus to go to the cross, it meant that the Jews had to reject Him & send Him there. And that’s exactly what they did. Their sinful rejection was precisely the thing that made it possible for them to be saved. (If that’s not the sovereign work of God, what more can you ask?!) As Isaiah wrote: Isaiah 53:2–3, “(2) For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. (3) He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” It was Israel that hid their faces from their Savior, and it was Israel that rejected Him. Yet by the grace of God, it was through this very act that God provided for their salvation. All they needed to do now was to repent of their sin of rejection, and believe.
    1. Lest we get prideful, we are just as guilty of rejecting Jesus as were the Jews. After all, it was a Gentile Roman that sentenced Jesus to the cross. It was Gentile Romans that drove the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. And beyond our ancestry, it was us as individuals who said “no” to Jesus every single day of lives until the one day we finally said “yes,” (if indeed you have). Any rejection of Jesus is just as sinful as the original Jewish rejection of Him. We as modern Gentiles are just as guilty as the ancient Jews. Thankfully, this is why we have been given the word of salvation! All of our rejection can be forgiven through repentance & faith in Christ!
  4. Paul details their rejection next…

28 And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. 29 Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.

  1. Jesus was innocent. There was “no cause for death in Him.” They convicted Jesus on the charge of blasphemy, but it would have only been blasphemy if the things He said weren’t true. But they were! When Jesus testified that He had seen Abraham as the I AM (Jn 8:58), He did & was. When Jesus called Himself the Son of Man who would come in the power and glory of God (Mt 26:64), He is & will. Anyone else claiming to be God could rightly be convicted of blasphemy, but not Jesus. Jesus was truly innocent of the charges against Him. (And He is innocent of all other sin as well.)
  2. Jesus was turned over to the Gentiles. It wasn’t bad enough that the Jewish rulers rejected Jesus; they actually turned Him over to the Gentiles to be put to death. Normally, they hated Roman occupation, but they were happy enough to use Pontius Pilate for their own purposes. They couldn’t bear the thought that Jesus might be believed by some among the Jewish populace, so they disgraced Him in the worst way they could imagine: deliverance over to the Gentiles to be put to death via crucifixion. Not only was crucifixion unimaginably awful (being one of the most torturous ways to die in the history of humanity), but it was also considered a curse. The criminal who was put to death via hanging on a tree was Scripturally declared to be “accursed of God,” (Deut 21:23), and at its core, crucifixion was exactly that. So put it together, the Jewish rulers completely rejected Jesus, turning Him over to Roman occupiers for a death sentence, and the death sentence was considered a curse. They couldn’t have highlighted their hatred of Jesus any more, if they tried!
  3. Jesus was buried. Jesus’ burial is part & parcel with His death, but although it might seem obvious to us, it needs to be stated. When Jesus died on the cross, His death was real – it was total. He didn’t merely faint or swoon, only to awaken later; He was truly dead, certified so by the Roman government (Jn 19:34). When Jesus was buried, He was buried according to Jewish custom, which meant that His dead body was witnessed by those who attended to Him (anointing Him, wrapping Him with spices, laid in a tomb). There was no question of His death…which makes the news of His resurrection even more astounding!
  4. Note: Everything according to prophecy. Again, Paul makes the point that “they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him.” None of what happened to Jesus happened by happenstance. Nothing was left to chance. All of it was foretold, and all of it was fulfilled. Everything from the details of the money paid to Jesus’ betrayer (Zech 11:12-13), to the details of His crucifixion (Ps 22:6-8, 14-18), to the unique circumstances of His burial (Isa 53:9) – all was prophesied and all came true. Once more, the Scriptures repeatedly & clearly point to Jesus as the Savior sent by God.
  5. But that’s not all…

30 But God raised Him from the dead. 31 He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people.

  1. Jesus was raised! All of the betrayal, rejection, and crucifixion, as bad as it was, was not the end. “God raised Him from the dead!” The rejected Savior became the resurrected Savior – the one was dead rose to life. The infinite power of Almighty God is seen in the resurrection of His Son, and there is no doubt that Jesus is His Son because God has resurrected Him! (Rom 1:4) Think for a moment what this meant to the Jews listening to Paul. On one hand, they hear how their own rulers rejected the Promised Messiah, ensuring that He was sentenced to an accursed death in a massive show of rebellion against their Covenant God. But on the other hand, now they hear that Jesus is alive by the power of God. Good news indeed! In fact, it would seem too good to be true, except for the fact that…
  2. Jesus was witnessed. That Jesus is risen is not a lovely idea of the imagination – it’s not some piece of invented fiction or urban myth. It is absolutely true, proven not only by the 2-3 witnesses required under Hebrew law (Deut 17:5), but by hundreds of people over dozens of days. First there were the women, then there were a few of the apostles, then there were all of the apostles, then there five hundred others, there was Jesus’ brother James, then last of all to Paul himself (1 Cor 15:5-8). The imaginations of one or two people would be easy to dismiss, but the collective testimony of so many others is impossible to ignore. Jesus truly is alive, being risen from the dead. This is good news – this is the word of salvation…

32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers.

  1. The word of salvation is good news, “glad tidings!” How else could the message of Jesus be described, especially to the Jews? The One whom they rejected, God made alive. The One who promises the forgiveness and salvation of God actually delivers it, not in spite of His death on the cross, but because of His death and resurrection from the grave. This is the fulfillment of the promises made to David, to Moses, to Abraham, and to Adam. Each one of these covenant fathers looked forward in faith to the Messiah sent by God: David looked for an everlasting King & God’s Son, Moses looked for another Prophet ruler, Abraham looked for a blessing unto all the world, and Adam looked for one who would defeat death and the devil. And God gave Him: Jesus – known unto all by His resurrection from the dead!
  2. Good news – glad tidings – the promise of salvation! We who are lost need to be saved, and we are given assurance of the One who saves by looking to Jesus. The person who gives the news of Jesus gives God’s word of salvation, and that is good news!
    1. The question is if you believe? You have heard the good news, but do you believe it? Are you so convinced of God’s word of salvation concerning Jesus Christ that you are willing to entrust your life to Him, knowing that He alone is your hope of heaven and forgiveness? Many hear the word, but do not respond in conviction. Don’t let that be you! Hear & respond – trust Christ!

By this point, Paul has described the word of salvation, providing all of the necessary details of the gospel. What does he do next? He backs it up from the Scripture. All along, he’s spoken how Jesus fulfilled the words of prophecy, and to the Jews paying close attention, their natural questions would have been: “Which ones? How so?” There wasn’t time for Paul to go into detail of all 300+ prophecies fulfilled in Jesus, but he tackles a few…

  • The promises (33-37). What does the written word say about the word of salvation?

33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’

  1. Quoting Psalm 2:7. The second Psalm speaks of God’s sovereign victory over all the nations, and His choice of Israel’s king as the eventual king of all the earth. It was considered to be a coronation psalm, read over all the kings of Judah when they ascended to the throne. Thus, it referred to all sons of David, but especially to the prophesied Messiah: Jesus. Paul’s point to the Jews he was talking to was this: Jesus is the Son of God prophesied in the Scripture. What was the proof? Again, the resurrection (Rom 1:4)…

34 And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’

  1. Although we might expect Paul to quote a more straightforward prophecy of resurrection (like he does in verse 35), he now quotes Isaiah 55:3. How does this relate to the Messiah’s rising from the dead? Because the “sure mercies of David” is a reference to the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. So that begs the question: What’s involved with the covenant God made to David? 2 Samuel 7:12–13, “(12) “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. (13) He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” There are several promises from God here: (1) David would indeed die, just like every man. (2) David would be given a physical descendant to sit on his throne, which happened with Solomon & every successive king. (3) A son would build a house for God, seen in Solomon’s temple, but also seen in Jesus’ building of the church. (4) God would give the promised Son an eternal throne & kingdom. This final promise could not be said of any of the previous sons of David, but could apply only to the Messiah. Solomon had a glorious reign, as did Hezekiah and Josiah (some of the best among all the others), but every single one of those men died and the kingdom was passed to someone else. What was needed was for a Son of David to not only arise, but be eternally alive so that He could eternally reign. Thus, for the Davidic covenant to be true, the resurrection must be real.
    1. Think about it: How can a king have an eternal kingdom unless he is eternally alive? And how can we know if someone is eternally alive? Only if death has been conquered. Jesus has conquered death! His resurrection on the third day, combined with His eventual ascension into heaven proves that Jesus has totally conquered death never to face it again. All humans face death, despite our best efforts to cheat it. Be it through nutrition, physical fitness, medicine, surgeries, or even ventilators & heroic efforts in the hospital, we try to put off death as long as we can…but it eventually comes to all. Few things in life are 100% guaranteed, but death is one of them. It is a reality for which we must (And if you aren’t, you can’t afford to put if off!) Even Jesus died. The difference is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. Jesus rose from the dead, not only proving His power over it, but also providing the guarantee that one day everyone who believes in Him will also be raised from the dead. He is the first (the “firstfruits”) of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23).
    2. All that to say that Jesus’ resurrection shows Him to be the Son of David and the Son of God. It shows that He is the recipient of the promises God made to David, the One specifically anointed by God as His only begotten Son.
  2. Just to further make the point, Paul shows that the resurrection of the Messiah was specifically prophesied…

35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’

  1. Of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, Psalm 16:10 is most specific to the resurrection. It was also quoted by Peter at Pentecost, as he referenced Psalm 16 a bit more in its context: Acts 2:25–28, “(25) For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. (26) Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. (27) For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. (28) You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’” As with Paul, Peter was also speaking to a group of Jews who had come to worship – that time, not in the normal synagogue Sabbath gathering, but in Jerusalem on the holiday that they traditionally celebrated God’s gift of the 10 Commandments to Israel through Moses. Yet on that particular Pentecost, God gage a wonderful new gift: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church through Jesus. Peter proclaimed him to the thousands of Jews who were astonished at the miracle of a bunch of Galilean fishermen praising God in languages they could not have known. It was a sign of the Holy Spirit’s power & presence, and the Holy Spirit’s testimony of Jesus as the Risen Messiah.
  2. This time, there was no visible/audible sign of the Spirit’s power (at least in terms of the miraculous tongues), but there was the power of the Spirit-inspired word quoted by Paul to the synagogue Jews. He’s shown from the Scriptures that the Messiah was to be the begotten Son of God, that He was to be the recipient of the eternal covenant of David, and now that He was to be free of physical rot/corruption in death – all of which are proven by Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. In the Jewish mindset, Hades (Sheol) was the place of the dead – sometimes used in reference to the physical grave, sometimes a bit more ambiguous regarding the soul. In either case, the Messiah was promised not to have His soul remain in death. He would taste it, but He would stay in it. He would rise from the grave in victory, and He remains alive today forever.
  3. Of course, Paul still had to make the point to the men listening to him at the time that this all applied to Jesus. He connects the dots for them next…

36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption.

  1. There’s the proof: David died & decayed. His body rotted in the grave. Jesus did not. He died, but His body did not decay. Not even Lazarus could say the same thing. By the time Jesus arrived at Lazarus’ grave for the purpose of raising him (temporarily) from the dead, Lazarus’ sisters objected at the thought of removing the stone due to the stench of decay (“Lord, by this time he stinketh,” Jn 11:39 KJV). That was 4 days; Jesus was only in the grave 3 days, and even during that time His body did not decay or stink. He “saw no corruption.” When Jesus later appeared to His disciples, He still bore the marks of the nails in His hands & feet, but His flesh was whole & unharmed. Jesus wasn’t a zombie; He was (and is) fully & totally alive.
  2. Praise God! What amazing news it is that Jesus is risen from the dead! It shows that all of the promises of God’s written word are all true. His written word speaks of the word of salvation. Apart from the resurrection of Christ, it would seem that the Hebrew Scriptures contradicted themselves. How could the Messiah promised to David reign over all the world for all time, if the Messiah was also promised to be rejected and die as a sacrifice? Both were prophesied – could both still be true? Yes – but only if the Messiah both died and rose from death. And Jesus did! He alone proves the promises of God true – He is fulfillment of all of God’s word & plan. In Him, all of the promises of God are “yes and amen!” (2 Cor 1:20) This is someone we can trust: with our eternities, with our confessed sins, with everything.
    1. People often wonder how they can know which religion is right. In many peoples’ minds, all religions basically teach the same thing anyway (be nice to others, don’t harm folks, etc.), so why make a big deal out of any one of them? First of all, there are vast differences between Christianity and other religions in many ways, but more to the point, the most important difference is that of Jesus. Only Biblical Christianity is proven true because only Jesus is risen from the grave. And because He is, only Biblical Christianity offers true forgiveness of sin and the promise of everlasting life in heaven.
    2. BTW – That’s not just good news of the word of salvation for the person still to respond to Christ; that’s good news to all of us who have already received Jesus as our Lord. We not only have the guarantee of heaven assured for us, but we have the guarantee that Jesus always lives in intercession for us. We have the promise that Jesus never leaves us. We have the promise that no one will ever snatch us out of the Father’s hand, because of our Living Jesus. What mercy – what grace! For all of the ways that we screw up on a regular basis, we have the ongoing promise of forgiveness. We have the eternal assurance of God’s love for us, all because Jesus is risen from the grave. This is good news, indeed!

Paul has declared the word of salvation, and he has described what the written word has said about the word of salvation, but that wasn’t all. Now he called the people to respond…

  • The invitation (38-41). How do we respond to the word of salvation?

38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

  1. Jesus forgives! Jesus provides release from the bonds of all our sin – freedom from the crushing debt of our transgression and rebellion against God. Had the Jews listening to Paul sinned? Of course! The whole Hebrew law pointed to the perfect holiness of God and the inability of people to live up to it. That was the reason the first five chapters of Leviticus are filled with sacrifices and offerings, because there was a continual reminder of the need to somehow atone for all their many sins. Just because they were born children of Abraham didn’t mean they were clean – on the contrary, they were a rebellious people, in dire need of the forgiveness of God, and His forgiveness was available in God’s Messiah, Jesus.
    1. We are in no less need of forgiveness! We have sinned on a regular basis against the God who created us and gave us breath. We’ve used the lips He gave us to blaspheme His name, the passions He gave us to lust after stuff, and the bodies He gave us to engage in all kinds of hatred and rebellion. You may or may not have been convicted of a crime on earth, but that is of little importance in the court of God – there, our rap-sheets are infinitely long! We have sinned against the Creator God, and we will one day see Him face-to-face for judgement. We too, are in dire need of forgiveness! Praise God that Jesus gives it!
  2. Jesus justifies! As if forgiveness was not good enough, Jesus goes further in His grace by fully justifying us in the sight of God. If forgiveness is release from sin, justification is restoration from it. In forgiveness, our debt is wiped away; in justification our bank accounts are made full. Imagine having a credit card debt of $100,000 – you’d wonder how you’d ever pay it! Forgiveness is the bank wiping your debt clean, not having any balance due. That’d be enough to be thankful for! The only problem would be you’re still penniless. Justification would be getting money put in the bank. It’s one thing not to owe; it’s another never to owe. That’s the difference between forgiveness & justification…and Jesus does both.
    1. For the Jews listening to Paul, they knew ways to temporarily atone for sin – that was all demonstrated in the law of Moses. The thing the law could never do was justify them. The effects of sin could be temporarily covered, but it couldn’t ever be fully reconciled. That sort of thing could only come by the grace of God. How could they receive that sort of grace (that needed grace)? By Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah!
    2. How do we receive true justification? What is the only way by which we are guaranteed to be made right in the sight of God? Through faith in Jesus Christ.
  3. Know it! Believe it! Paul said “let it be known to you” – don’t just hear it & let it go in one ear & out the other. Hear the word of salvation, and know it in such a way that you believe it. So many people hear, but they don’t believe. They ignore it to their own peril…

40 Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: 41 ‘Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, Though one were to declare it to you.’ ”

  1. Paul quotes one final Scripture to them: Habakkuk 1:5. Contextually, the prophet had asked God how long God would allow injustice to continue among the Jews in the land, and God’s answer was this Scripture. God was going to do something so incredulous, that Habakkuk wouldn’t believe it. God would bring in the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment, something unfathomable to the prophet, but something that was necessary to bring the Jews to a place of repentance.
  2. Paul’s point to the Jews in the synagogue was similar: beware, lest you reject the good news of God! The word of salvation had been preached/declared to them – now it was up to the hearers to believe. Paul had been faithful to his part. He gave them the good news of God in Christ Jesus. But Paul couldn’t make anyone believe – that was up to the individual who heard.
    1. It’s up to you, as well. God has worked an incredible work through Jesus Christ, proving it by His resurrection from the dead. It has been declared in your hearing. The question now is if you will believe.

Conclusion:

The word of salvation is all about Jesus! The good news of Christ is that Jesus was sent according to prophecy, that He did all of the things God promised that He would do, that He was crucified as a sacrifice for our sin & raised by the power of God from the dead – all of it according to the word and promise of God. The question now is whether we will believe it, or despise it.

The Jews listening to Paul in Antioch Pisidia were truly lost, in desperate need of God’s word of salvation in Christ. We’re no different. True, we live in a different time & a different culture, but we are no different in our sins & transgressions. We have also rebelled against God at every turn, destined to face His judgment. In short, we are sinners in need of saving…and Jesus is the Savior! We are helpless to enter heaven, and Jesus is our Grand Help, our only hope. He forgives & He justifies – He gives us everything we lack, so we can be forever made the children of God. The word of salvation in Jesus is good news, indeed!

So believe! Don’t despise it – receive it for what it is, with joy & faith & the full assurance that God saves us through Jesus Christ!

One caution to Christians: beware of thinking that the word of salvation is only for non-believers who need to come to Christ. God’s word of salvation is to us, too. Christians need the gospel! The gospel is the good news that brings us to Christ, but it is also the good news that we need to continually hear once we have faith in Christ. Who among us doesn’t need the daily reminder that Jesus forgives us our sins, and has justified us before the Father? Who doesn’t need the comfort of knowing that we are children of God, and that Jesus has assured us of this through His resurrection from the dead? We need this word of salvation, because this is our hope to which we cling!

It is also the word we get to share. Don’t miss the fact that the only reason the Jews in the Antiochian synagogue heard the gospel is because Paul was there to share it with them. Both Paul and Barnabas were faithful to every opportunity given them by the Lord to declare Jesus to others, and there were many. We may have different opportunities, but the opportunities are there. Look for them, and take them. The Christmas season is the perfect time to do so, as we can tell people why the birth of Jesus brought glad tidings of great joy to all people.

And it is to “all people”…including those who have not yet believed upon Jesus and received Him as Lord. All the Jews in Antioch Pisidia heard the word of salvation preached by Paul, but not all believed. Some despised the word…and in doing so, turned away from their only hope of heaven. That doesn’t have to be you. You can make the choice to believe today!

Prepared for Jesus

Posted: December 2, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 13:13-25, “Prepared for Jesus”

“Keep your fork!” Those were the words that my mother would tell me when dessert was following dinner. Knowing what a great baker my mom was in her prime, I know that something really good was coming. As much as I may have enjoyed my dinner, something better was on the way. She had whet my appetite – she had prepared me for the good stuff to come.

To a large extent, that idea sums up much of the history of Israel in the pages of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). God did amazing & wonderful things for His people – but much of it was looking forward to what was still to come. It was as if God said, “Save your forks!”, because the best was still on the way. His miracles & salvations prepared the people to see the ultimate Deliverer & Savior, Jesus.

This was what Paul said to the people gathered in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia. There, he gave his first recorded gospel sermon, pointing his listeners to the salvation of God freely available in Jesus Christ. How did the message begin? Paul started with a bit of Hebrew history showing how God had consistently saved/delivered His people in the past, all in preparation for the true Savior sent by God: Jesus.

Although this is the first sermon of Paul recorded in the book of Acts, it was not the first he ever gave. Already, Paul had an active ministry. When Paul (then known by his Jewish name Saul) was first converted after his terrible career persecuting the church of Christ, he taught in Damascus until he was forced to flee due to death threats. When Paul/Saul arrived in Jerusalem, the same thing happened there. He was soon sent back to his hometown of Tarsus for his own safety, and he remained there until the man known as the “Son of Encouragement,” Barnabas, sought him out for help ministering to the growing church in Antioch of Syria.

Over time, Barnabas & Saul/Paul were called by the Holy Spirit to missionary ministry, and they set out with Barnabas’ young cousin John Mark (the future author of the gospel of Mark) to the island of Cyprus. There, they taught in the synagogues, proclaimed Jesus to the people, and were soon summoned by the proconsul (governor) to present their message to him. As we saw last week, this was when Barnabas & Saul ran into opposition in the form of a supposedly “Jewish” sorcerer by the name of Bar-Jesus/Elymas. This man was openly confronted by Saul (now called by his Roman name Paul), who pronounced him to be blinded in judgment of the sin of trying to turn the proconsul away from the truth. As a result, the proconsul/governor came to faith, and Paul & Barnabas were ready for their next round of ministry.

That would come with leaving the island of Cyrus & going back to the mainland, where they eventually end up in Antioch Pisidia. There, Paul got the opportunity to preach in the synagogue, and he used the time exactly as we might expect: to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. The details of the gospel actually come later in Paul’s message; he begins by showing how God had prepared the Jews (and all the world) for this moment. God had done much to prepare the people to see Jesus as the Savior; the only question was whether they would believe.

We can be so slow to believe! As with the Jews of the 1st century, God had done so much in our live to prepare us to see Jesus for who He is. We need a Deliverer, and God has given us one, having prepared us to see Him. Do you see Him? Do you believe? (And if you do, are you prepared to speak of Him?)

Acts 13:13–25

  • Setting (13-15). Prepared to preach Jesus. Are you prepared to serve?

13 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.

  1. When Barnabas & Paul had arrived on Cyprus, they landed on the east coast and preached their way to the west coast. Once finished with the proconsul, they set sail back to Eurasia in the area of modern-day Turkey. Notice who set sail: “Paul and his party.” Up to this point, it was always “Barnabas and Saul,” Barnabas being the older Christian in the faith, the emissary from Jerusalem, and the acknowledged leader of the group. Now it is Paul who is seen as the leader. He stepped to the forefront in Paphos when confronting the opposition of Bar-Jesus, and he remains in this role for the rest of the journey. (Much to Barnabas’ credit, there is zero mention of any jealousy or resentment from him; he acknowledged God’s hand upon Paul just as much as anyone else.)
  2. Along with the other changes was the departure of John Mark from the group. Once they reached the mainland, John Mark turned around and went home to Jerusalem. Why did he leave? Theories abound: perhaps he was upset that Paul now led the group rather than his cousin Barnabas – perhaps he was homesick for his mother back in Jerusalem – perhaps he struggled with the hardships of missionary ministry, as there is some evidence that Paul & others became sick when arriving in Pamphylia (possible malaria?). Ultimately, there’s no way of knowing. What we do know is that his departure was seen by Paul as abandonment, and it broke a great deal of trust. When Paul and Barnabas later prepared to begin a second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark, and Paul refused to have him. Ultimately, it caused Paul & Barnabas to split up – unfortunate at the time, but effectively doubling the gospel ministry going out from Antioch to the rest of the world. (Acts 15:36-40)
  3. We know very little about John Mark’s reasons for leaving, but we can definitively say this much: he wasn’t prepared to continue. At this point in his life, he wasn’t in it for the long-haul. This would change over time, and he became valued by Paul, Peter, and ultimately the rest of Christendom with his written gospel of Jesus – but at this point in his young life, John Mark wavered in his commitment. He wasn’t prepared to see things through.
    1. Have you been in a similar position? Perhaps as a Christian, you’ve been given an opportunity to serve, and you know God wants you to serve, but you’ve been hesitant to step out in faith. It’s been easier to leave it to others, thinking you can always get to it later. Or perhaps you gladly stepped into the work, but once things got a little tough, you weren’t so sure you wanted to continue. You started serving, but you didn’t like it when people treated you like a servant. If so, you wouldn’t be the first, and you certainly won’t be the last. Know this: God doesn’t have to use us, but God wants to use us. We need to prepare ourselves to be used by Him. There is so much joy in knowing that you are being used by Jesus in the present moment to serve Him and to build up His kingdom – but you will never know that joy if you never give yourself over to Jesus to be used by Him. It doesn’t mean things will be easy or smooth; it does mean that God will be glorified. So prepare yourself! Set your heart and mind to seek the Lord, freely making yourself available to Him. Ask the Spirit to fill you & empower you, making it possible not only to serve Jesus, but to endure while you serve Jesus. If John Mark had done so, his story might have been completely different!
    2. Of course, maybe you haven’t been prepared to serve Jesus because you haven’t belonged to Jesus. There’s little doubt that John Mark was born-again & soundly saved…he just had a bit of stumbling along the way. Can you say the same thing about yourself? Those who try to serve God without first belonging to God as one of His children will always struggle. Surrender yourself first to Christ in faith to be saved; then surrender yourself to Christ to be used by Him for His glory.

14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

  1. Describing the journey from Perga to Antioch Pisidia, one commentary says: “It was a long journey, and as it lay almost entirely through rugged mountain passes, while “rivers burst out at the base of huge cliffs, or dash down wildly through narrow ravines,” it must have been a perilous one. The whole region was, and to this day is, infested by robbers, as ancient history and modern travels abundantly attest; and there can be but little doubt that to this very journey Paul many years after alludes, when he speaks amidst his “journeyings often,” of his “perils of rivers” (as the word is), and his “perils of robbers” (2 Co 11:26).” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown) It wasn’t an easy journey, but it was a necessary one if they were to arrive in “Antioch in/of Pisidia.
  2. Antioch wasn’t a random choice. It was a Roman colony and the seat of power in the region. If Paul & Barnabas were to visit Galatia at all, Antioch Pisidia was the obvious place to go. Once they arrived, Paul & Barnabas engaged in their already-established pattern. Being Jews, they first went to the Jews for an opportunity to speak of the Jewish Messiah. This meant they went to the local synagogue for the normal Sabbath-day worship. They sat among everyone else, and awaited their chance to speak. And no doubt, they would receive one. Among the Jews at the time, there was a cultural expectation of visiting rabbis speaking to the gathered congregation. A typical synagogue meeting would have the people recite the Shema (“Hear, oh Israel…), the leadership would pronounce various blessings & prayers, they would read the Scripture from both the “Law” (Penteteuch) and the “Prophets” (either major or minor prophets), and then a message would be given by any competent Jew in the room. Often it would be the local rabbi, but in the case of having a visiting rabbi dressed in his normal garb as a Pharisee, Paul was politely asked to speak to the congregation under the assumption that he had something to say. They wanted a word of exhortation/encouragement from him, and Paul was more than willing to provide one.
  3. Before we read what Paul said, notice that Paul was prepared with something to say. This was the very reason they had come to the synagogue, as Paul and Barnabas were ready to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. Quite the contrast with John Mark! John Mark was not prepared to serve Christ in the gospel ministry; Paul and Barnabas were. They had been called by the Holy Spirit to specifically serve in this way (13:2), and they were ready & prepared to do it at every opportunity. There’s no way Paul could have guaranteed he would get the opportunity to speak at the synagogue, but he knew it was a strong probability, so he was ready for the moment when it arrived.
    1. Are we prepared for the moments before us? Given the chance, are we prepared to tell others of Jesus as the Christ? Granted, some opportunities are more obvious than others. But even when there is not a planned, “official” outreach, we still have opportunities every day to speak of Jesus, do we not? They exist; the problem is that we aren’t prepared for them, and we don’t look for them. When we’re ready for something, we look for it. A running back who has been told to expect a pass turns to look to the quarterback for the throw, preparing to receive it. But any player on the field needs to be ready for a change of plans at any time. They need to be ready, always looking to what needs to be done. Likewise with us – we need to be ready, always looking to Jesus for the opportunities He gives us to speak of Him. Maybe it comes while you’re sitting in the chair for your haircut. Maybe it comes as you strike up a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store. Maybe it’s when your co-worker lets you know of a health problem in his/her family. Any of those can be opportunities the Lord gives us to be used by Him to speak of Jesus; we just need to be prepared and ready for them to come.
    2. The problem is, we often aren’t We don’t look to Jesus in those moments, and we just live life on “coast.” God hasn’t called us to coast! The Great Commission is too important – eternity is too near to every single person and the wrath of God due to sin is too great to imagine. We must be prepared to serve Jesus at any moment; we just need to be ready. 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” When should we be ready? Always! Are you ready to serve Him? Are you ready to speak of Him? (If not, why?)
  • Sermon, part 1 (16-25). God prepared His people for Jesus. Are you prepared to see?
  • God’s personal work of deliverance (16-19)

16 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it.

  1. As Paul began, he first spoke of the work of God among Israel throughout history. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Stephen did much of the same thing in Jerusalem. When he was arrested & brought before the Sanhedrin, much of his defense comprised of a history of Israel showing how God repeatedly reached out to His people, and they repeatedly turned away (Acts 7). What makes this interesting is that Paul was present the day Stephen spoke all those things, as Paul (Saul) was the Pharisee who gave approval to the mob to stone Stephen to death (Acts 7:58; 8:1). The message opposed so vehemently by Paul in the past, he now used as a model in his own ministry. (It’s amazing how God changes us!)
  2. God “chose” Israel. Out of all the people in the world, God looked down upon Abraham and chose him (literally “elected” him) for His own. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob had done anything deserving of God’s grace, but God chose to give it to them. When Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees, he was an idolater. Even after he met the Lord, Abraham had periods when he lapsed in his faith (such as when he lied about the identity of his wife), and his son Isaac followed in those same footsteps with those same deceptions. Jacob/Israel was no better, as he was (in many ways) a scoundrel who tried to manipulate his way to the top. Even so, God chose to love them, and each of them humbled themselves before the living God, having faith in His gracious promises. From Abraham’s first call by God, God made the promise of a future Messiah (Gen 12:3), and it was one to which all of the fathers of Israel clung.
  3. God protected & “exalted” Israel through Joseph. When things looked bleak for Jacob & his family during a terrible famine, they found refuge in Egypt only because of God’s grace seen in Jacob’s 2nd youngest son, Joseph. Betrayed by his older brothers, Joseph had been believed to be long-dead, but he was in Egypt first as a slave, then as a prisoner, and finally as the grand vizier (prime-minister) of all the land second in authority only to Pharaoh. Joseph was truly exalted by the Lord, and it was through Joseph that the family of Jacob (Israel) was saved. It was in Egypt that Israel transformed from a clan to a nation, as God continued to exalt the people, causing them to multiply greatly in a region of Egypt, untouched by the pagan cultures around them.
  4. God delivered Israel from slavery through Moses. Though Israel had been initially protected in Egypt, they were eventually persecuted & forced to serve as slaves. Even so, God had not forgotten His people nor the promises made to them, and “with an uplifted arm” He gave His people freedom. Through the work of Moses, God led His people out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea for their safety, and drowned the Egyptian army in judgment.
  5. God had been personally involved with His people for centuries, delivering them out of their troubles, and always reminding them of His future promises. And it didn’t end with Moses…

18 Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.

  1. God was patient with Israel in the wilderness. To say that God was “patient” is an understatement! This was a people that complained about God’s deliverance from the first days following their freedom, all the way through for the next forty years. The NKJV “put up with their ways” literally speaks of “bearing their moods.” NIV “endured their conduct;” KJV “suffered He their manners.” Even this was an act of deliverance. Deliverance from what? Deliverance from God’s own deserved wrath! They (like us) were a stubborn, stiff-necked people, quick to complain and ever open to idolatry and rebellion. Despite God’s personal presence among them (pillar of cloud & fire), and despite God’s personal provision for them (daily manna), the people were ungrateful. Yet God had mercy upon them, patiently bore with them, and continually reminded them of His promises to come.
    1. How much this sounds like us! God is so merciful to us, so loving, so gracious, ever providing…yet we are so ungrateful. We despise His gifts, take the life He has given us for granted, and treat the commands of God as optional-advice. Yet He bears with us – He is patient with us. Even in our sin, He still provides Jesus for us, offering not only to forgive us, but to cleanse us, to keep us in close fellowship, and to treat us as His children. Oh, the amazing love of God!
  2. God was gracious with Israel in the conquest. He “destroyed seven nations,” and gave the people of Israel a home in Israel. God continually delivered them from nations that were mightier than them, and gave Israel the homes & lands of their enemies as their inheritance. This was the promise made by God to Abraham so long ago, and God saw that it was fulfilled! The wicked nations of Canaan were judged, and the tribes of Israel were given their lands a their rightful inheritance.
    1. So the work was complete, right? Although the gift of the land was part of the promises of God, it wasn’t all of God’s promises to Israel. There was still a promise of rest to be found in a future Messiah. The rest that the people experienced in the land was more preparation for the rest that would come through Someone else. Hebrews 4:8–10, “(8) For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. (9) There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. (10) For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” Where is that rest found? It wasn’t in the physical land – it wasn’t even in the Sabbath day (the sign of the covenant); it was only in Jesus. In Jesus is the rest of God – everything else was mere preparation for Him. The Sabbath day and the promised land were meant to merely whet the appetites of the people.
  • God’s given persons as deliverers (20-22)

20 “After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.

  1. God provided “judges.” Some were better than others (Deborah & Gideon, as opposed to Samson & Jephthah), but each one was a man or woman raised up by God to not only lead His people, but to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. The cycle throughout the book of Judges shows how Israel would sin (usually with idolatry), be given by God into the hands of their enemies, the people of Israel would repent, and God would raise up judges to deliver them into renewed freedom. Constant deliverance was required because the people constantly sinned. They went further and further away from God, but God always remained faithful & always kept His promises firm.
  2. God provided “a king.” Obviously, God provided more than one king, but the first was “Saul the son of Kish.” (Perhaps highlighted by Paul as being “a man from the tribe of Benjamin” because Paul was also a man from the tribe of Benjamin, whose given name was Saul!) The last of the judges was Samuel, but Samuel was also a prophet & a kingmaker. When the people rejected Samuel as a leader & cried out for a king, God knew that (ultimately) they had rejected God Himself as King – just as He had always known they would do (Dt 17:14). God’s first choice of king was Saul, and although Saul was effective for a time, he wasn’t fully committed to the Lord. Saul was used by God to prepare the way for a different king, the one who would take his place.
  3. FYI: where the timeframe of 450 years should fall within the translated sentence is questionable, depending on the manuscripts. (Which is why the reading varies between the KJV, NKJV vs. the NASB, ESV, NIV, & others.) 1 Kings 6:1 definitively states there were 480 years from the original exodus from Egypt to the 4th year of Solomon’s reign, when he began to build the temple. The 450 years spoken by Paul could possibly be either the rough estimate of Israel’s entry into Egypt, their slavery, their wandering, and the time of the conquest (i.e. when God distributed the land to them), or it could be the rough estimate of time of the Exodus to the kings. The first is more likely, but either way the point isn’t the amount of time that went by; it was that God continued to be gracious to His people throughout He was always delivering them, and always preparing them for the Deliverer.

22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’

  1. Although God had given the people a king in Saul, Saul was unfaithful to God. Saul was presumptuous regarding sacrifices (1 Sam 13), and Saul was disobedience regarding God’s commands (1 Sam 15). That said, God had a plan. God “removed” Saul & provided a better king: David. Unlike Saul who served himself and his own desires, David would take care to serve the Lord, desiring to please God. Not that David was perfect! He famously committed adultery, and then conspired to murder to cover-up his adultery – an act that would haunt him the rest of his life through the sins of some of his sons (Amnon & Absalom). Even so, David was God’s chosen king to lead His people, and the standard by which all of the following kings of Judah were measured.
  2. What was it that God so loved about David? David’s heart. God had “found David,” anointing/choosing him to do God’s will (Ps 89:20) based on the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). David had a heart bent to the will of God – David had a heart that burned for the same things that God treasures – David had a heart to worship God, glorifying Him in every situation. What a legacy to leave behind!
    1. There are many legacies left by people in this world, some better than others. President George HW Bush died yesterday, and for all the things that some say about him politically, virtually every politician that knew him has spoken of his decency & generosity. That’s a good legacy! Others have been known as loving mothers or fathers – also, good legacies. But the best? To be known as a man/woman after God’s own heart! What a legacy we leave, that when people think of us, they think of Jesus. (Pray that God might grant us the same!)
  3. The person who so strives after God is a person who can be greatly used by God, and such was the case with David. If any one person was used by God to prepare His people for Jesus, it was David – and that is exactly what Paul says next…
  • God’s gift of Jesus, the Deliverer (23-25)

23 From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus—

  1. Finally, God has given Jesus! All of the preparation through the patriarchs, the prophets, the provisions of God, and the many people who came before – all of it had led to this one Man, “a Savior, Jesus!” For the first time in his message, Paul mentions the name of Christ, and it is the climax of everything he’s said to this point. This was the One his listeners have been waiting for – this is the One for whom all this preparation has been made.
    1. Perhaps God has been preparing you in the same way. He’s been working in your heart this morning, getting you ready to hear of Jesus. Listen! Take the preparation of God to full fruition as you hear of the Savior sent by God!
  2. God provided a “promise.” Of course there were many promises regarding the coming of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah – not only with Abraham & the other patriarchs, but stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:15). However, when it came to the idea that the Messiah would be of the “seed” (lineage) of David, God some very specific promises. There was the initial covenantal promise that God made directly to David, that David’s descendent would be known as God’s Son and that His kingdom would last forever (2 Sam 7:13-14). There was the “Branch of righteousness” that God would raise up to David in reference to the restoration of God’s people & their future kingdom (Jer 23:5, 33:15). This goes hand-in-hand with God’s word through Isaiah regarding the Messiah: Isaiah 11:1–2, “(1) There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. (2) The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” All of these were promises of God concerning the Messiah, coming through the line of David. As much as David was a man after God’s own heart, the future Messiah would represent the heart of God even more. The Messiah would be the better-than-David – He would have not only the desire to serve God, but be uniquely anointed with the Spirit of God as God to serve God in a way unparalleled in history. What a promise! But it didn’t remain only a promise…
  3. God provided a “Savior!” As great as the promise is, words are only words until they are fulfilled. The great news that Paul had the privilege of saying was that these words of God were fulfilled! The Savior long-awaited by the Hebrews – the Person of whom all the previous deliverers only gave a glimpse – the One of whom God repeatedly prepared His people – this Savior had come! His name is Jesus, and He is truly the Savior of God!
    1. Question: What is a Savior? We use the term all the time, almost always in reference to Jesus, but that wasn’t the case in the 1st century Roman empire. In classical Greek, the term was sometimes used of the Greek gods, but other times used of people. Doctors might be called “saviors” for their abilities to heal. Kings and other royalty were often called “saviors” for their protection of their people. That was the world’s idea of “savior”; to God, it is far different! In the New Testament, the term is used 24 times: 16 for Jesus, and 8 for God the Father; it is never used of men. When Paul proclaimed a Savior had been given, he proclaimed a Savior greater than any other man his audience had ever known. In the synagogue that day, there were ethnic Jews alongside God-fearers – all of which were immersed in the Greek/Roman culture of the day. They may have thought of other saviors, but those men didn’t hold a candle to God’s Savior. God’s Savior had been prophesied since the dawn of history, and God had gone to great lengths to prepare His people to receive Him. God’s Savior is someone truly special…and He is!
    2. Don’t miss the main point in the title. If God sent a Savior, it means that we must need saving. And we do! Just like the people of Paul’s day, we are lost in our sin. We’ve lied, lusted, cheated, stolen, and hated without cause. We’ve exalted ourselves in pride over the God who gave us life. We’ve used the lips He gave us to blaspheme His name. We sin dozens of ways every single day, and every single sin carries a death sentence. We are drowning in sin, and we need saving! Jesus is our Savior. He came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10). He came to be a sacrifice in our place, in order that our sins could be wiped clean (Heb 10:12). He came as our substitute, bearing our sins and our transgressions (Isa 53:5). He came so that whoever believes in Him would not be condemned, but receive everlasting life (Jn 3:16). He came as our Savior!

24 after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’

  1. Before launching into the work of Jesus, Paul spoke to the people about one more man God sent to make things ready for Jesus: John the Baptist. John was the last of what could be considered the Old Testament prophets, and he was extremely well-known in the ancient near east. It seems likely that, at the time, the synagogue congregation in Antioch Pisidia was more familiar with John the Baptist than with Jesus. But even though they may have heard of John, they may not have known John’s purpose. John was sent by God to do two things:
  2. John prepared the people for Jesus. He was known as the Baptizer, because the crowds flocked to him to get baptized. But what was John’s baptism? It wasn’t to be identified with Jesus in faith (which is our baptism), because John’s ministry predated Jesus’ ministry. John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” John called people to change. And it wasn’t the people that many of the Jews would have expected. They expected Gentiles, tax-collectors, prostitutes and others to admit their sins and change their ways; John called all of them to do it. Tax-collector and Pharisee alike were commanded to repent. Repentance was preached to those who thought they least needed it.
    1. What is repentance? It’s a change of mind & change of action. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we think, which naturally affects the things we do. To repent from fits of rage is more than just feeling bad about it (and sorry for yourself) – it’s even more than apologizing to others for your actions. That’s a good start, but if things don’t change, then you haven’t really repented. True repentance from fits of rage would be committing to self-control, gentleness, and peace. True repentance is turning away from your sinful desires & a turning to God in humility & faith.
    2. We do not get baptized for repentance, but we are to repent! Jesus’ first message ever preached was the same as John the Baptist’s: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 4:17) Turn away from your sins & cling to Jesus in faith!
  3. John preached the glory of Jesus. As great a ministry as John the Baptist was given by God, never once did he look to hoard it for himself. He considered himself only a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing people for the Messiah. He constantly pointed people to Jesus, and even towards the end of his life (when he “was finishing his course” or “completing his race”), the only thing he wanted people to know was the glories of Jesus as the Messiah. John was the greatest of the prophets (proclaimed so by none other than Jesus! ~ Lk 7:28), but John knew that he was nothing next to Jesus. John wasn’t even worthy to untie Jesus’ shoes.
    1. Paul’s point? Believe the preaching of John! The Savior sent by God is incredible, and He is more precious than any other person imaginable. The work He has done is glorious, and we need Him more than words can express!

Conclusion:

Paul’s message is only beginning, but already, he had much to say! Through the centuries, God had prepared His people to see Jesus, and the time had now come. God laid the groundwork through His own personal acts of deliverance – He continued through the many people He gave as temporary deliverers – He even proclaimed the Savior to come through the greatest prophet in history. Now the Savior had arrived, and His name is Jesus!

Of course, Paul was ready to preach this message because he had prepared himself to be used by God at any moment. Not everyone had this same mindset, but Paul wanted to take advantage of every opportunity given him by God. The message of Jesus is too important not for us to be ready to proclaim…we dare not pass it by.

We close with two questions: Are you prepared to serve? Are you prepared to see?

Are you prepared to serve? Which mindset is more like your own: the young John Mark, or Paul and Barnabas? Thankfully, John Mark would grow & mature, but he had a season of stumbling…like many of us! We aren’t always ready to serve God, and we’re certainly not always ready to speak of Jesus. Keep in mind, our witnessing doesn’t always have to be a formal presentation. We don’t always have the occasion to preach the gospel for 5-10 minutes at a time, or to give our full history & testimony. Sometimes we have only a brief moment – perhaps a single sentence in response to a question. Be prepared to use it for Christ! Be ready to speak of Jesus.

Are you prepared to see? God not only went to great lengths to prepare the Jewish people for Jesus; He has gone to great lengths for us. How many times did you hear the gospel before you put your faith in Christ? Perhaps you still haven’t placed your faith in Him. Look at what God has done! Just this morning, He gave you life, breath, and the ability to walk into a church filled with Christians. You’ve sung songs about Christ, read His word, and heard His gospel. What did it all take to bring you to this very point, right now? God has done it all. He has prepared you for this moment…now it is time for you to respond!

The Spirit Works!

Posted: November 25, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 12:25 – 13:12, “The Spirit Works!”

It’s one thing to work; it’s another thing to work in the right way. Some people can sweat buckets without accomplishing anything, whereas someone else might make one change and be highly effective. It’s the difference between using an old-school rotary push mower, and a gas-powered lawn tractor. Same project + different tools = massive results! As it’s often said: “Work smarter; not harder.” Perhaps it’s better to say: “Work hard…but still work smart!”

If that’s true regarding yardwork, construction, and dozens of other things, why would we expect it to be any different regarding the Great Commission? There’s working, and then there’s working smart. There is trying to accomplish the work of God in the power of ourselves, and then there is doing the work of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. The former is fruitless; the latter is glorious!

Beware of something right up front: It would be easy to listen to a message about the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas and write off any application as being limited to pastors and missionaries only. Why would anyone else in the church pay attention? What do the ministry events of Paul and Barnabas have to the “regular” Christians in the church? After all, it’s not as if most Christians are going to be standing before governors and city officials preaching the gospel. Right? Wrong. In most cases, so-called “regular” Christians will have far more interaction with community leaders and other local people than pastors and missionaries. Think about it: for 40-50-60+ hours per week, where are most people located? At work. For pastors, that’s normally in a church or around other Christians. For everyone else, it’s out in the world, among everyone else (i.e., non-Christians). That means that it is the layperson (the “regular” Christian) that has the most opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus on a daily basis, far more than a pastor or any other church staff person. This is something the Bible recognizes, which is why Paul wrote to the Ephesians that the officers of the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers) equip “the saints for the work of the ministry,” (Eph 4:12). Pastors certainly do the work of evangelists & preach the gospel at every opportunity, but it is the congregation that has far more “regular” opportunities to do it. That being the case, the happenings of Paul & Barnabas in their missionary ministry has much to do with every Christian!

One thing that was abundantly clear with Paul and Barnabas from the very beginning was the importance of working under the leading of, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians try to do the work of God on their own & wonder why they fail. Other people actively oppose the Holy Spirit, rebelling against the work of God altogether…and again, wonder why they fail. We aren’t to oppose the Spirit nor resist Him; we are to surrender to Him & follow Him. That is when we will see success in the things God has called us to do!

We pick up in a major transitional section in the book of Acts as Luke officially moves his attention from the ministry of Peter and the church of Jerusalem to the ministry of Paul and the church of Antioch. The church in Antioch of Syria has already been introduced, and Luke described wonderful ministry taking place. Christians had arrived from all over the Roman empire preaching the gospel in this major city, and many people were being saved. Jerusalem heard about the work, sent Barnabas to investigate, and he found he had so much work to do that he sought out Saul (soon to be known as Paul) from nearby Tarsus to help. Together, they ministered side-by-side in Antioch, pastoring and teaching the Christians for a year before the church sent the two of them to Jerusalem for the purpose of delivering a financial gift to the people there (who were soon to suffer a famine).

Meanwhile, Peter continued ministering around Jerusalem & Judea, and was eventually arrested by Herod Agrippa I, as the new king increased his opposition against the Jerusalem church. Once again, God showed Himself more powerful than kings, and He sent an angel to deliver Peter from the prison (much to the chagrin of the guards who came up empty the next morning!). Freed, Peter reported the news to a group of Christians who were praying for him at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, and Peter left for another undisclosed location.

Aside from a brief appearance of Peter in Acts 15, this is the last the book shows of him, and Luke fully turns his attention to Saul/Paul and his various ministry partners, of which Barnabas and John Mark are the first. They begin their ministry, almost immediately encounter opposition, and see God work wonders as people are brought to faith.

How does it all happen? Through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit separated Paul and Barnabas to the work, and the Spirit sent & empowered Paul & Barnabas for what was at hand. It was all the work of the Spirit; the Christians simply needed to follow His lead.

Don’t oppose the Spirit! Listen to Him & follow His lead!

Acts 12:25

  • The Spirit speaks (12:25-13:3). Are you listening?

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

  1. Before all the action can take place with Barnabas & Saul, they have to first get back home to Antioch. Remember that they had been sent by the church to deliver a financial gift to the Jerusalem Christians based on a prophecy that was received about a coming famine. Barnabas and Saul had been sent as the Antiochian representatives, undertaking the several-day trip together. Once they were there, they obviously met with many people, including Barnabas’ relative Mary & her son John Mark (last seen hearing the news of Peter’s escape from prison). Apparently the three men all hit it off, and when it was time to return to Antioch, John Mark went with them – thus showing how all three ended up in ministry together.
  2. BTW – John Mark often gets a lot of criticism for his later abandonment of Paul & Barnabas on the mission field, but he ought to receive at least some credit for his beginning (as well as his eventual reconciliation & end). Here was a young man that stepped out in faith from the start, leaving his home to go travel with his cousin to a new place to do a new work. He had no idea what was in store, but he had already seen God work in wonderful ways through Peter and the other Jerusalem Christians (and had potentially even seen and known Jesus just prior to His crucifixion), and once John Mark knew he had a chance of being used by God, he jumped at it. He started well, stumbled along the way, but came back & finished well. Praise God for his willingness to start! Praise God for his eventual repentance & restoration!
    1. What hope this ought to give all of us as Christians! Who among us can claim a perfect walk with Jesus? Who can say we’ve always done what was right all the time? If John Mark can be restored, so can we! This is all part of the grace of God available to us in Jesus.

Acts 13:1–12

1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

  1. There were five prominent leaders in Antioch, which makes sense considering the size of the church within the city. Not only was Antioch one of the largest cities in the empire (third only to Rome and Alexandria), but so many people had come to faith in Christ that multiple teachers were required from many other areas. The city had initially had evangelists come from Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Cyrene (Lebanon, an island nation in the Mediterranean, and North Africa), but they also had Barnabas from Jerusalem, and even Barnabas required extra help from Saul. “Many hands make light work,” and in Antioch, it was “all hands on deck!” In this case, the leaders were listed as “prophets and teachers.” Other prophets had already been seen in Antioch (Agabus – Acts 11:28), but there were other known prophets within the church leadership. What they spoke & how they spoke isn’t known, not being recorded in Scripture (showing that prophecy is not the same thing as Scripture), but even though what they said wasn’t necessary for all Christians for all time, it was definitely necessary for the Christians in Antioch. (Different gifts, one body – all necessary!)
  2. Of these leaders, they came from a wide variety of backgrounds!
    1. Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36) who spent much time helping to lead the church in Jerusalem. He’s been seen several times in the book of Acts already, having a true ministry of encouragement to other believers.
    2. Simeon, with the nickname of “Niger” (dark/black). His nickname suggests he was perhaps from North Africa – some of theorized that this was the same as Simon of Cyrene who helped carry the cross of Jesus (Mark 15:21). There’s no way to verify whether it was the same man, but it is certainly a possibility.
    3. Lucius (Latinized version of “Luke”) from the north African city of Cyrene. This is definitely a different person than Dr. Luke the author, as the writing-Luke doesn’t make an appearance until much later in Paul’s ministry.
    4. Manaen, who seemed to have been a boyhood friend of Herod Antipas (known here as “Herod the tetrach”). He would have had royal connections, and a reputation among the Roman elite.
    5. Saul of Tarsus, the rabbinical student of Gamiliel, Pharisee of Pharisees, and former persecutor of the church.
  3. What did these men do? They prophesied, they taught, and they prayed

2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

  1. Former ministry success did not lessen the need for prayer and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary; it increased! Remember, people in Antioch had come to faith by the droves. There were constant needs for discipleship, preaching, and other forms of service. But that meant that there was even more need for prayer, and the five leaders ensured they made time to seek the Lord. They dedicated themselves to God, even taking time to fast – something commonly practiced to submit the needs of the physical body to the needs of the spirit. Normally people are driven by physical desires (hunger, thirst, sleep, etc.) with spiritual practices coming in second place. Fasting intentionally turns it upside-down by filling spiritual hunger first through prayer, temporarily putting the body’s needs last.
    1. Contrary to what some believe, fasting isn’t a way to intensify your prayer and manipulate God into giving you what you want. It’s a way to increase your own dependence upon God as you (1) trust Jesus to sustain you, and (2) use every hunger pang as a physical reminder to pray. Medically speaking, not everyone can physically fast, but for those who can, it’s a beneficial practice.
  2. In this midst of this, the Spirit spoke. Please don’t miss this! As important as what it was the Spirit had to say, don’t miss the fact that God the Holy Spirit actually said it. Some believe that the Spirit is the “silent partner” of the Trinity, that He never calls attention to Himself. Not so! The Holy Spirit is just as much God as is God the Father & God the Son, and He can speak, lead, guide, and command just as much as the Father & Jesus. He is just as much worthy of worship as the Father & Son because He is equally part of the Trinity. When we worship God, we inherently worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as They are One. The key is Biblical balance. Typically, the Bible shows prayers addressed to the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit (with the Holy Spirit praying for us at the same time). If we keep that balance, we are on solid Biblical ground.
  3. The Spirit called. He had a plan for Barnabas & Saul, and the time had come to put it in action. The word for “separate” speaks of setting apart, appointing, marking boundaries. Barnabas and Saul were to be roped off for the “work” which God the Spirit had for them. Although Barnabas & Saul had an active ministry in Antioch, God had something else in mind for them. They were to be exclusively dedicated to it.
    1. Keep in mind that it wasn’t that one calling was bad & the other better; they were simply different. Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen are not heard of again in Scripture, but it doesn’t mean that what they did in Antioch was unimportant. On the contrary! To the Antiochian Christians, they were beloved & valued. These men were their pastors & teachers – they were the continued evangelists & disciple-makers. Barnabas and Saul were called by the Spirit to do this work on the mission field; the others were called by the Spirit to do it at home. All of it was necessary, and all of it valued.
    2. This is part of what it means to be a member of a church family. All of us have different roles, different callings from God, different gifts given by the Holy Spirit…and all of them are necessary. God has called some to foreign mission fields – He’s called others to share the gospel through Sunday School curriculum right here at home. God has given some the gift of evangelism – He’s given others the gift of hospitality & service. Which one is most valuable? ALL of it is valuable! We need everyone in the church exercising the gifts God the Holy Spirit has distributed to each one in order to be most effective for the Kingdom of Christ. Think about it: if Barnabas & Saul hadn’t been set apart for their ministry, there would have been a lack (and all of us would have suffered!). But the same thing is true in the opposite direction. If all the leadership at Antioch would have left for the mission field, who would have stayed and discipled the Christians at home? God has a calling for every Christian, and all of us need to walk it what it is the Lord has called us to do, for the benefit of all.
  4. How did the church learn of this calling? Through prayer. God the Holy Spirit led them & spoke to them as they sought Him through prayer. How important it is for a church to pray! How important it is for Christians to seek the Lord! Born-again believers worship and serve the Living God, and we need to expect a God who lives to be a God who leads. But we won’t know how the Lord leads if we never ask. So we pray – we study His word – we submit ourselves to His will – we fast – we seek Him and we listen to Him! We do it in prayer services, in small groups, in families, and as individuals. There is no one way to seek the Lord in prayer; there is just a necessity to actually seek Him!
    1. When was the last time you truly sought the Lord? Thankfully we pray quite often, and we’ve even prayed as a church body already this morning (several times). But when was the last time you sought the Lord, prayed for His leading, and waited? More often than not, our prayers are lists of requests – they are us telling God what we want. (And the Bible tells us to do this! We are to make our requests known to God – Phil 4:6.) But more then telling God what we want, we need to ask God what He We need to truly seek Him & His will.
    2. And He will answer! We don’t have to engage in some mystical practice or wait for some kind of writing in the sky, but we can know that God will answer our prayers. Sometimes it’s through His still small voice speaking to our hearts – quite often it is as we read His word (which is why it is good to have your Bible with you when you pray) – sometimes it’s through the unity that He gives to born-again believers. However God chooses to give His answer & guidance, you won’t know if you never seek Him and ask. So seek Him!
    3. BTW – This sort of seeking in prayer can only be done by born-again believing Christians. If you aren’t yet a Christian, there is only one seeking in prayer that God wants for you: to seek Jesus in faith for forgiveness & grace! Whether you know it or not, your most important need is not whatever your circumstances may be (and the stuff for which we normally pray); your most important need is for you to be forgiven of your sins & be made a child of God. That only happens through faith in Christ…
  5. How did the church leadership respond to this calling from the Holy Spirit for Barnabas and Saul? They prayed some more…

3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

  1. Everything they did was covered in prayer! They continued fasting, they continued praying. But it didn’t stop at prayer. The church prayed, and then they acted. “They sent them away.” Barnabas & Saul were not truly separated for the Spirit’s work until they were sent away. It was one thing to have hands laid on them in prayer; it was something different to hit the road.
    1. Faith always has feet! 
  2. The church sent them away, but the church wasn’t the only ones…
  • Led by the Spirit (13:4-12). Are you following?

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, …

  1. Who sent who? Did the church at Antioch send Barnabas & Saul into ministry, or did the Holy Spirit? Yes – both! Yet they did so in different ways. Interestingly, the words translated “sent” are different between verse 3 & verse 4. In verse 3, the church “sent away” (set free, released, dismissed) the missionaries; in verse 4 the Spirit “sent [them] out” (send away for a purpose). The church released Barnabas & Saul to their Spirit-ordained ministry; the Holy Spirit purposefully sent them forth. Who was in charge of the ministry? God! It may have been Barnabas & Saul on the road, but they didn’t invent their calling. It may have been the church at Antioch that laid hands on them & got them moving, but it wasn’t their work. This was the will of God for them, and the work of God that set it into action. God the Holy Spirit called, commanded, and generally led the work done through everyone else. If God wasn’t doing it, no one else needed to be a part of it!
    1. Who cares about doing the work of men? We want to do the work of God! That means we need to be submitted to God, and do the things He has called us to do. There are a lot of good ideas put out by a lot of well-meaning people; but good ideas can also be good distractions. What has the Lord called us as a local church to do? That’s what we are to do. What has the Lord called you to do? Do that!

…they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.

  1. Cyprus was an interesting choice for the mission to begin, as it was Barnabas’ original home (Acts 4:36). We aren’t told the reason why they began there, but it’s possible that Barnabas knew of the need of the gospel on the island (although the island already had quite a few Christians, as seen in chapter 11), as well as it being a somewhat familiar place for beginning. The missionary group could ease into the work, having a few familiar surroundings as they got started. Ultimately, it didn’t matter where they preached; it just mattered that they preached. After all, everyone needs the forgiveness of Jesus, so every place is a legitimate mission field! 
  2. Once in Cyprus, what did they do? They took the gospel first to the Jews. They went first to the “synagogues” (plural!) and preached there. It was a logical place to begin, considering that the three men were all ethnically & culturally Jewish, so they started with their own people. Theologically, it was the right place to begin. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies, the Son of David & King of Israel. The Hebrew people were the first to be given the Scriptures, and they were most familiar with the expectation of the Messiah (prophesied from Adam to Abraham & onward). When the Messiah came, Jesus first walked & ministered among the Jews before He ever worked with others (hardly even going beyond the borders of Judea). As Paul later wrote to the Romans, the gospel of salvation is given “for the Jew first and also for the Greek,” (Rom 1:16). If, Barnabas & Saul, being Jews, did not first take the gospel to the Jews, not only would they have missed a wonderful opportunity, they would have been downright negligent!
    1. What about us – are we to do the same? Keep in mind we are in a different situation. The first decade (or so) of the church’s existence was almost exclusively dedicated to giving the gospel to the Jews, and (for the most part) the Jewish nation rejected it. That said, the gospel has still gone to the Jews throughout the centuries & still goes to them today. (As a church, we specifically support a missionary family living in Israel giving the gospel to Jews.) But we don’t have the same platform as Barnabas & Saul. As Gentiles, we don’t have the same opportunities. (Not worse; just different.)
  3. John Mark went with them, being the cousin of Barnabas. What he did as an “assistant” is unknown. The term was often used of synagogue assistants and other religious service-positions. Perhaps he helped with the ministry supplies, or served as a kind of “gopher” (go-fer). We might think of it in terms of an apprenticeship or internship. It was a terrific opportunity for the young man (though it wouldn’t last).

6 Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

  1. Paphos was on the far side of the island (about 90 miles away), and there was likely much ministry in-between. What happened along the way, we don’t know, though surely it was a great introduction to the work the Spirit had called them to do. Eventually, the group traversed the island & ended up at the next port-city, which was also home to the capital.
  2. Once there, they encountered their first major opposition. In a parallel to Peter’s own ministry in Samaria, Saul & Barnabas encounter a “a certain sorcerer, a false prophet.” A sorcerer (pagan magician) is a false prophet, by definition! Anyone that relies on demonic powers for revelation is going to preach lies, even when they might contain kernels of truth. After all, how can you trust anything that is given to you by the devil? (It’s like eating a cyanide-laced brownie: how much do you want to try eating before you think it will kill you?) What made it worse was that the man was a Jew. It was one thing for Simon of Samaria to be a sorcerer – he was a Samaritan, with a false view of the Bible to begin with. Simon had a terrible foundation; Bar-Jesus had no such excuse. Bar-Jesus knew the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures; he chose to ignore them. Ethnically he was still a Jew, being physically descended from Abraham; spiritually he was a total pagan, having abandoned the faith of his fathers.
    1. Many people in Christian churches find themselves in a similar situation! They might hold an identity as a “Christian,” perhaps even be an upstanding member of a local church. Yet if they don’t have sincere faith, it doesn’t matter what they call themselves or what their backgrounds are. It doesn’t matter that their great-grandfather built the church in which they worship, or if their cousin is a preacher, etc. If they do not personally follow the Lord Jesus, having believed on Him as Lord & Savior, then they are no more “Christian” than this sorcerer was a Jew! (Thankfully, that can change in an instant!)
  3. Even his name was ironic: Bar-Jesus = Son of Jesus = Son of YHWH is salvation. “Jesus” (Joshua) was a common name, and there isn’t an association between Bar-Jesus & the Lord Jesus Christ – but the man’s naming could not have been more opposite from Christ if he had tried! He was no son of God’s salvation; he was a false-prophet to the extreme.
  4. With someone of Bar-Jesus’ background, it is no wonder that he opposed the preaching of Barnabas & Saul. What made it worse was that Bar-Jesus was an advisor to the local governor, the “proconsul Sergius Paulus.” This man was the Roman official in charge of the entire island, having been appointed to his position by the Roman Senate. No doubt he had heard people talking about this new message being preached in his jurisdiction, and he wanted to hear it for himself. In all likelihood, the only reason Barnabas & Saul were able to give the gospel to Sergius Paulus was because it was a command invitation. Whatever the reason, the opportunity was wonderful, and the missionaries took full advantage of it!
  5. Why the mention of Sergius Paulus’ intelligence? Apparently he had discernment & good sense, even though he employed a sorcerer. (It wasn’t an uncommon practice of ancient times. Nebuchadnezzar had magi / wise men as his advisors, as did many other kings and pagan officials.) As for Sergius Paulus, he apparently readily understood the gospel message even though he was a Gentile without a Jewish background in the Scriptures. This made him a wonderful candidate to whom to witness – but it also put Bar-Jesus in a precarious position. After all, if the governor came to faith in Christ, understanding the truth, then that would put the sorcerer out of a job!

8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

  1. Luke gives a second name to Bar-Jesus: “” This isn’t the translation of his given name; it’s a translation of his occupation. Scholars debate it, but it seems to be an Arabic or Aramaic form of the word for “wise man / sorcerer,” which is translated by the Greek as μάγος (~ magic). To call him “Elymas the sorcerer” is to call him “Sorcerer the sorcerer.” His position became his nickname.
  2. Of course a far bigger problem than his name was his active opposition to the gospel. He sought out ways “to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” It wasn’t enough that the proconsul didn’t believe the same way Bar-Jesus did (there’s no mention that Sergius Paulus was a Jew, much less a disciple of this false-prophet); it was that Bar-Jesus could not afford to have Sergius Paulus believe the truth. Like the Pharisees condemned by Jesus, this sorcerer shut up the kingdom of heaven against the man, neither going in himself nor allowing Sergius Paulus to enter (Mt 23:13). Bar-Jesus/Elymas stood in the way of the gospel…a truly dangerous (and despicable) act!
    1. It is bad enough for a person not to believe the testimony of God concerning Jesus; it is far worse to actively oppose it for others. Such people are going to have to stand before God & give an answer (just like all people regarding sin). Just like Elymas, they are guilty of causing people to stumble away from the gospel, and it would be better for a millstone to be hung around their neck & for them to be tossed into the sea! (Mt 18:6) Beware that you do not oppose the gospel! 
    2. Thankfully, few true Christians will ever oppose the gospel (if they do, they probably aren’t true!); but some might inadvertently find themselves opposing the work of God in other ways. When we aren’t being led by the Spirit, but instead pushing our own agendas, we’re quite possibly opposing the will of God. When we refuse to let Scripture be our final authority, we’re opposing the will of God. When we actively choose to sin, telling God “no” when we specifically know what His word commands, then we’re definitely opposing the will of God! Be careful! That isn’t a place any Christian wants to be. That’s a place guaranteed of discipline, and it’s something that can be avoided through simple humility and repentance.
  3. If Elymas was direct in his opposition, Saul was even more direct in his discipline…

9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?

  1. This is the first instance Luke uses the name “Paul,” and he’ll continue to use it for the rest of the book of Acts. Like many people of the day, Saul had two names: one he used while around fellow Hebrews, and one he used while around Gentiles as a Roman citizen. Unlike Abraham and Israel, Saul/Paul was not re-named by the Lord; Paul simply used the name that was appropriate for his ministry context. (Perhaps one more demonstration of how he became all things to all men that by all means he might save some. ~ 1 Cor 19:22)
  2. Paul was not going to take the opposition of Bar-Jesus lightly. At some point, every evangelist is going to encounter opposition. Some of it can be ignored; others can be debated quietly and peacefully. Not this time. In this case, the opposition directly endangered the bourgeoning faith of a potential Christian. Sergius Paulus was on the verge of becoming a born-again believer, and this heretical Jewish-sorcerer was going the work of Satan to snatch away the seed of the word before it could take root. [Parable of the Soils – Mt 13:19.] Paul needed to take direct action. Putting his full attention on Bar-Jesus/Elymas, Paul stared directly at him and cursed him with the same high language as the prophets of old.
    1. Elymas was “full of all deceit and all fraud.” There was nothing true about him – everything he taught was a lie. Everything he spoke was tainted with falsehood, being that it was directly opposed to Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6).
    2. He was a “son of the devil.” Far from being a son of God’s salvation (Bar-Jesus), he was a son of Satan. He did the bidding of the devil, and was the hand of evil in active spiritual warfare. Paul called him out for what he was, not mincing words.
    3. He was an “enemy of all righteousness.” If Paul preached the gospel of righteousness & Elymas opposed it, then Elymas was its enemy. Any person outside of the grace of God through Jesus is an enemy of God, but Elymas had taken up a position of active warfare. If he only recognized whom he opposed, he would have understood his foolishness! (It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God! ~ Heb 10:31)
    4. Everything he did was “perverting the straight ways of the Lord.” Elymas made crooked what God made straight – he made confusing what God made clear – he corrupted what God made pure. Keep in mind that it wasn’t just with Paul & Barnabas…this was what Elymas had always done. He was a false Jewish prophet & sorcerer in the court of the Roman proconsul. To the governor, Elymas represented the spiritual side of his advisory board; the reality was that Elymas represented nothing but lies.
    5. Need it be said? There are still false prophets today! They promote themselves as spiritual, pretending to men/women of God, but they are just as perverted and corrupt as Bar-Jesus/Elymas. Some of them have TV ministries – some are best-selling authors; but it doesn’t matter what platform they have if they pervert the truth of God. Beware of those who twist the Scriptures to fit their agendas. What we need are the straight paths of the Lord, the truth of the gospel & the Scriptures!
  3. This is harsh language! This is bold! It’s tough to imagine any one of us as born-again Christians confronting someone in a similar way. How did Paul do it? He was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul didn’t do this in his power, or under his own initiative. He was led by & filled with God the Holy Spirit. Remember, this was God’s work, so it was being done God’s way by God’s power. This was not Paul asserting his own authority; this was God working through Paul, demonstrating the full authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    1. Whenever we do ministry (whatever it is the Lord calls us to do), we dare not do it in our own power; we must work through the power of the Holy Spirit! We need to be filled with Him, fully dependent on His leading & gifting. We can trust Him to lead us in the moment, because He is the living, active God. He will give you boldness when you least expect it – He will give you answers you never knew you had – He will equip you exactly how you need to be equipped at the moment you need it.
    2. The key? To continue seeking the Lord God & follow Him in obedience! Paul would never have been able to answer Elymas at this moment if Paul hadn’t been obedient to the Lord in all the moments leading up to this. Paul had been faithful with the many opportunities given to him by the Lord Jesus for years, and when this moment presented itself, he was ready. Are you? Am I? The things the Lord has given us to do now may be things He is using to prepare us for something later. But we’ll never know what that is if we don’t act in the present. Seek Him, follow Him, be obedient! Continually ask to be filled with the Spirit, and then walk in the power He gives you.

11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

  1. Not only did Paul directly confront his opposition; he brought direct discipline. He spoke as an Old Testament prophet, and acted in the same way. One can easily imagine Moses or Elisha speaking & acting in a similar manner. Paul (under the authority of Christ, being that he was presently filled with the Holy Spirit) pronounced blindness upon Bar-Jesus/Elymas, and it immediately came to pass.
  2. Interesting that Paul’s first recorded miracle was the same judgment he himself received on the road to Damascus.

12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

  1. The miracle had a double purpose, and it was doubly-successful. Not only was Elymas disciplined for his sinful opposition to God & His gospel, but “the proconsul believed” as Sergius Paulus came to faith.
  2. Notice how the faith of Sergius Paulus came about: he saw the miracle, but he was also “astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” The proconsul made the connection between the judgment and the gospel. It wasn’t the miracle alone that converted him; it was the miracle in combination with the teaching. If Sergius Paulus had witnessed Elymas’ blindness out on the street, he might have been impressed, but still walked away a heathen. But because he witnessed the blindness coming by the discipline of Paul, and because he had already heard the word of God coming from Paul, and because he already recognized that the teaching from Paul was truly of God, the entire combination overwhelmed the man & he believed. The word of God together with the work of God in the power of God is awesome!
  3. Question: was it the work of Paul or the work of the Spirit? Paul certainly worked in obedience to God, but ultimately this was the work of the Spirit! God the Holy Spirit sent Paul to this place – God the Holy Spirit gave Paul this teaching – God the Holy Spirit filled Paul with power – and God the Holy Spirit brought Sergius Paulus to faith. It was the Spirit’s work, the Spirit’s call, and the Spirit’s power. All glory and honor belongs to Him.

Conclusion:

As the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas began, the Holy Spirit of God worked in mighty ways! God the Spirit had a plan for Barnabas & Saul/Paul, and sent them out. God the Spirit gave them opportunities to preach, the boldness to confront opposition, and the power to back it up. What God did was amazing!

How did they all see it come to pass? Simple: Christians listened to the Spirit, and followed His leading. The church at Antioch steadfastly sought the Lord in prayer, recognized His voice & calling, and released people to walk in His gifts. Paul & Barnabas (along with John Mark) were faithful in the smaller opportunities given them by God, and were prepared for the bigger things when they came as they walked in the Spirit’s power. Even Sergius Paulus intelligently listened to the teaching of God, and humbly surrendered himself to Jesus in faith when he saw the truth of God in action. Only Bar-Jesus/Elymas opposed the Lord God…and he paid a dear price!

Don’t oppose the work of the Spirit; surrender to Him! The Spirit still speaks: are you listening? The Spirit still leads: are you following? Beloved, we serve the Living God, and He actively leads us – but we need to surrender our will to His own. We need to humbly seek Him in faith, and act as He calls and empowers us to act.

Will it require a step of faith? Yes. Will God give us what we need to take that step of faith? Undoubtedly! As we continually surrender ourselves to His will, our God will give us exactly what we need to do the work He desires. You’ll be able to share Jesus with your co-worker, stand fast for Christ in the midst of your unbelieving family members, have the necessary (but difficult) conversations with your loved ones regarding sin, be the hands & feet of Jesus to strangers, and serve in ways you’d never imagine yourself serving. And guess what? It won’t be you; it will be the Lord working through you…which means it will be perfect!

The Great Escape

Posted: November 18, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 12:1-24, “The Great Escape”

The Great Escape.” It is one of the greatest World War II movies ever made, although not a single battle in either Europe on the Pacific is shown. Ultimately, it is about a prison break from a POW camp, loosely based on a true story. Other movies have depicted escapes from prison (The Shawshank Redemption, for example), but there’s something special about a jailbreak that is actually true (or at least as true as 1963 Hollywood would allow it to be at the time!).

Yet there are far greater escapes in history – some of which are included in the pages of the Bible! These accounts are not only 100% true, but they’re also 100% independent of men. They didn’t need the combination of careful planning and “good luck”; they needed only the Lord God. When God plans an escape, it’s always successful & it is always “great.” His rescues are awesome!

One of these rescues is recorded in Acts 12, as Luke’s account of Peter basically comes to a close. Peter will be seen again in Chapter 15, but for the most part, Luke is transitioning to the life & ministry of Paul (Saul). Before he does, he wraps a bow on Peter’s ministry in Judea, showing God’s hand of blessing and protection on him, just as God was blessing and protecting His church-at-large.

When we had last seen Peter, he was shown on a mini-mission trip of his own, traveling throughout Judea, visiting churches, working miracles, and teaching the word of God. Eventually, he arrived in the seaport town of Joppa, where he received a miraculous vision foreshadowing what God was about to do by giving the gospel to the Gentiles & bring people who were previously “unclean” into the church, having cleansed them by the grace of Jesus. This all came to fruition when Peter met with the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea, shared the gospel with him, and saw & heard the visible & audible evidence of Cornelius’ baptism with the Holy Spirit. Peter & the others with him baptized Cornelius & the other Romans who had placed their faith in Christ…an act he soon had to defend to the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem.

At that point, Luke turned his attention to a different church congregation & city: Antioch of Syria. This soon became a thriving church with all kinds of people serving in all kinds of ways, including Barnabas and Saul. It was in Antioch that the two men starting ministering together, as they co-pastored the rapidly growing church.

With Antioch established, Luke turns again to Peter, giving the first conclusion to his ministry. It wasn’t that Peter stopped serving Jesus…far from the case! Rather, Luke simply stopped writing about it, being led by the Holy Spirit to record the ministry of Saul/Paul. As for Peter, God was still using him in powerful ways! God had a plan for Peter, and no man (no matter how powerful) would be able to stand in God’s way. God cannot be stopped, nor can His gospel be silenced. What God wants done, will be done, because He is the One to build His church & not even the gates of Hell can get in the way!

It doesn’t mean things will always be easy; it means that God is always in control. Persecution is real, but so is God’s power to deliver. So also is God’s judgment, which all men & women must face – even those who don’t believe in God and persecute the people of God.

This ought to give us hope! We so often get discouraged at obstacles and persecutions, but these things are no problem for Jesus. God is in control, and His grace gets us through all things. God rescues, and God wins!

Acts 12:1–24

  • Herod’s persecution of the church (1-4). Persecution is real. Do you expect it?

1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

  1. About what time? Remember that Acts 11 ended with the church at Antioch receiving a prophecy that the world surrounding Jerusalem was about to be hit with a massive famine during the reign of Claudius Caesar, so they collected a financial offering and sent it to Jerusalem by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30). The famine likely hit around 45-46AD, with the collection being sent sooner (as a result of predictive prophecy), which made this time around 44AD. Historically, this fits perfectly with the life & death of “Herod the king.
  2. This particular Herod was Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great & nephew of Herod Antipas. The 1st Herod was the driving force behind the renovation of the Jerusalem temple, and the monster who ordered the death of all of the toddlers in Bethlehem out of fear of the newborn Christ. Herod Antipas was the one who beheaded John the Baptist & taunted the Lord Jesus during His pre-crucifixion trial. Antipas lost his power when Agrippa I accused him of conspiracy against the Caesar, and Agrippa was later given the throne (and expanded rule) in 41AD. Unlike his uncles (of which Antipas was only one), Agrippa was granted authority by Caesar to rule over the full extent of his grandfather’s kingdom, rather than just one of the four pieces into which it had been split. Agrippa was a keen politician with an ego to match, and he used it to his full advantage (and his downfall!).
  3. One of the acts taken by Agrippa was his persecution of church leadership, something that allowed him to curry favor with the Jewish leadership. Although we don’t know all of the Christians he harassed, we know of at least one he put to death: “James the brother of John.” This James was one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus (and one of the inner three), the brother of the beloved John, both of whom were sons of Zebedee (a fisherman) who were later nicknamed “the sons of thunder” by Jesus. James wasn’t the only Christian persecuted unto death (that was Stephen), but he was the first apostle to die a martyr. He wouldn’t be the last. Although Scripture does not record it, historical tradition tells us that all twelve (except John) were killed for their faith, and even John survived an attempt to have him killed.
  4. Question: If God was about to deliver Peter (and Luke spent much time describing it), why didn’t God deliver James? God could have delivered/rescued each of the men; at the time He chose to rescue one. Why? We don’t know, apart from one thing: God had continued earthly plans for Peter. It wasn’t that God loved Peter more or that God blessed Peter more; it was simply because in the overall plan of God, it was time for James to go home to Jesus while Jesus still had more for Peter to do on earth. Both men were blessed, because both were in the will of God. After all, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8) – physical death for a Christian is a blessing because we are with Jesus! It is sad for those we leave behind, but it is glorious for the born-again believer because that person is now in the forever presence of our Lord & Savior.

3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

  1. The reaction of the Jewish leadership to James’ execution encouraged Herod Agrippa to continue the pattern with Peter. History shows that Agrippa attempted to actively win the favor of the Jewish people in many ways, and the persecution of the Christian leadership was one of them. Thus, Peter was arrested, and placed under heavy guard. Each of the “four squads of soldiers” had four men (“squads” = τετράδιον ~ tetrad ~ four). Two men were constantly by his side, and two stood at the door, with the changing of the guard taking place every several hours. Why such much security? Apparently Peter’s reputation was well-known by Agrippa, and he wasn’t taking any chances with him.
    1. Remember this wasn’t the first time Peter had been arrested in Jerusalem, and it wasn’t even the first time he would experience a supernatural escape. Acts 5 describes a time when all kinds of miracles were taking place in Jerusalem through the ministry of the apostles, to the point where the high priest & Sanhedrin had them all arrested & put in prison. The night they were arrested, an angel appeared in the prison, opened the doors, and told the apostles to go back to the temple to keep preaching the gospel (the very place where they were arrested)…and they did (Acts 5:17-21).
    2. What makes it funny is that if indeed Herod Agrippa had known this history, he believed that 16 soldiers would have better success guarding Peter than simply the normal prison guard. If God sent an angel to rescue Peter (and others), then it didn’t matter how many guards were present! A single angel can kill an army of thousands overnight (2 Kings 18); a dozen-plus soldiers don’t stand a chance!
  2. When did it all take place? Passover, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread following. Because it was uncommon to conduct executions during the actual holiday (something ignored when it came to Jesus), Agrippa’s intent was to hold off on Peter’s execution until the weeklong festival was over. What does this tell us? Agrippa’s desire to execute Peter was purely political. Theology had nothing to do with it. Whatever Agrippa’s motivation, the hardship was real. James was killed, Christians were persecuted, and Peter was imprisoned. 
  3. Was this the wonderful plan that God had for their lives? Yes! Faith in Christ doesn’t guarantee anyone an easy life. Not once does the Bible claim that Christians instantly have all of their problems solved, that we will never again experience a sickness, or that we’ll all be rich and wearing $1000 suits. That may be a worldly definition of “wonderful,” but it isn’t real – it’s all superficial. After all, who cares how much money you have in your bank account if you aren’t forgiven by God? God’s wonderful plan is for us to be made His children, to be forever reconciled to Him through Jesus. That’s wonderful! As for persecution, persecution is to be expected. This is something we’ve seen several times in the book of Acts, and it’s going to be repeated many times again. When Christians are persecuted for their faith, it doesn’t mean that they’ve done something wrong; it means that they’ve done something right. Paul later wrote to Timothy: 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” It doesn’t mean that persecution is to be sought out, and it doesn’t mean that every time a Christian is arrested is because he/she is being persecuted. (Sometimes Christians break the law, or get others angry at us because we’re being boneheads!) But true persecution is a reality, and one that ought to be expected. What should be our reaction to these things? Joy! Matthew 5:11–12, “(11) “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (12) Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” It’s not that we pretend suffering is anything less than suffering; it’s that we know we’ve been faithful to our Jesus!

So James was dead, Peter was in prison, and Herod Agrippa believed he had the upper hand. The Christian leadership in Jerusalem were going to be crushed one-by-one, which the Jewish leadership hoped would strangle out the local church & perhaps the church all over Judea. Not so fast! God had other plans in mind…

  • Peter’s miraculous escape (5-19). Deliverance is real. Do you believe it?
    • Angelic rescue (5-11)

5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.

  1. When Luke wrote of “constant prayer,” he wrote of urgent, consistent prayer that was “offered to God” on Peter’s behalf. The church knew well what was at stake. Time was of the essence! The days of the feast were almost over & Herod was potentially going to execute Peter the next day. What else would the church do other than pray?
    1. Did this mean things were hopeless? Absolutely not! Prayer was not being treated as a last-resort by the Jerusalem Christians; it was used as their primary tool. God had not called them to mobilize a stealth-escape party – they weren’t going to storm the Fortress of Antonia by night. Physical strategies were useless, because this was a spiritual battle. Physically speaking, the untrained men & women of the church faced the might of the Roman-trained army of Herod Agrippa. Spiritually speaking, the miniscule Agrippa faced the Almighty God. The battle was spiritual, and it was to be waged through spiritual means – primarily, prayer.
    2. We so often underestimate the value and effectiveness of prayer! Prayer is how we fight the battle – prayer is how we stand firm in our faith. Don’t misunderstand: prayer does not somehow give any strength to God; God does not need our prayers in order to accomplish His work. He is fully sufficient and effective on His own. Prayer is what we need to keep ourselves focused on Him! Besides that, God chooses to respond to prayer. It’s not that He needs it; it that He desires it. There are some things we don’t have because we haven’t prayed for them (“you do not have because you do not ask,” Jas 4:2). Jesus specifically instructed people to ask in believing prayer, in order that we might receive (Mt 7:8, 21:22). The problem is we don’t ask! We relegate prayer to the back, thinking that it’s what we do when all else fails. It is what we do because everything else does fail. For the born-again Christian, prayer is the most effective strategy we can possibly employ!
  2. All of this is seen at work in Peter’s situation. Herod Agrippa had Peter his plan; God had His own. The people of the church were praying, and God was working. Peter was completely guarded, chained to two men (one for each hand?), with guards at the door, iron gates locked, deep in the heart of the Fortress of Antonia. This was maximum security just prior to Peter’s execution. What was Peter doing? What else? Why stay up all night stressing about the situation? Peter understood the Lord was in control. Jesus had told Peter that he would grow old prior to his execution (Jn 21:18-19), and Peter didn’t consider himself old yet. But even if Peter believed he’d die the next day, he still had his assurance of eternity with Jesus. Why worry when we have Christ? Everything else pales in comparison!

7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.

  1. The description is almost humorous. Peter was so soundly asleep that not even the appearance of a heavenly angel woke him up. The angel had to basically kick him in the side to get him to stir. (Sounds like some people I’ve roomed with!) The angel didn’t need to pick the locks or find the keys to Peter’s handcuffs as the chains simply “fell off.” (So much for security!) Peter’s standing there, free…but not moving. He’s just enjoying the time, thinking “he was seeing a vision.” The angel has to prompt Peter through every single step. “OK Peter, get up, tie on your belt, put on your shoes, put on your cloak, get moving.” (Almost sounds like a parent trying to get the kids out the door for school!) All the while, Peter simply followed step-by-step.
  2. Among everything going on, not once did the four guards stir. If nothing else, it was a miracle that no one else was awakened! So much for security! Doubtless, this was part of God’s plan as well. It would have been illegal for the guards to fall asleep, yet apparently not only one, but all four of them had passed out. If their eyes were indeed open, they were supernaturally blinded and deafened to what was going on.

10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”

  1. Not only had Peter’s chains fell off by themselves, the iron gate swung open all its own as well. The angel walked Peter down the all, out the door, through the courtyard, into the street, led Peter to safety, then vanished. The entire time, Peter was basically clueless as to what was happening to him. That being said, give Peter some credit. The fact that Peter didn’t know what was going on isn’t unusual, given his ecstatic vision from Acts 10. When he sat on the rooftop in Joppa, God gave him the vision of a sheet lowered from heaven full of unclean animals he was told to eat. None of that had happened in reality; Peter didn’t really have a reason to believe this was any different. With his earlier angelic escape from Acts 5, all the other apostles were with him as witnesses; here, he was by himself.
  2. Once Peter came to his senses, he had no doubt of what happened. This was the Lord’s work, and God had “delivered” him. God sent His angel to rescue Peter from an impossible situation, and Peter was truly rescued.
    1. God delivers! This is proven over & over again throughout the Bible. God rescued Abraham and Isaac from the foolish lies about their wives’ identities. God rescued Joseph from the Egyptian prison. God rescued the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. God rescued David from the hand of Saul. God rescued Daniel from the mouths of the lions. God rescued the Jews from Babylonian captivity. Be it large or small, our God rescues! He can deliver anyone from anything at any time. He is a rescuer!
    2. And we need rescuing! Among everything else that happens in our lives, we need rescuing from ourselves. Our sins left us in a place where we had far more than chains on each hand, locked in dirty prison cell; it left us square in the sights of the wrath of God. Peter didn’t deserve the execution Herod wanted to give him, but we have each earned our own. Yet Jesus rescues us! He delivers us from death & brings us into life & relationship with God!
    3. That’s the spiritual side of things, but can God rescue us from other stuff, too? Yes! We have the promise of eternal heaven, but it isn’t as if God abandons us in the here & now. The key is to trust God’s plan. Sometimes He delivers us from trials; other times He delivers us through Peter was delivered from the sword (though it came later in life); James was delivered through it. We don’t always know God’s short-term plans for us, but we can trust Him. Pray fervently, pray constantly, and trust God to do what He deems best.
  3. With Peter out of prison, what next? Now people have to be told that their prayers had been answered. The problem was whether they’d believe it!
  • Peter at the door (12-17)

12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

  1. We’re introduced to John Mark, a relative of Barnabas who would soon accompany him & Saul on their first mission trip. Mark also had a terrific relationship with Peter, and solid historical tradition holds him to be the one who recorded Peter’s preaching in the Gospel of Mark. Potentially, John Mark was present in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus, portrayed as the young man who panicked at Jesus’ arrest & left his garment behind (Mk 14:51-52). At this point, it was his mother that was more prominent within the church, and she apparently hosted Christians at her home who were among those praying all night for Peter.
  2. God was answering their prayers! Too bad they didn’t expect Him to do so…

13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

  1. The event with young Rhoda is rather funny, but understandable. With everyone else praying, she went to answer the door, “recognized Peter’s voice” from other times she had met him, and was so excited that she ran to report the news without unlocking the gate. Excitement will do that to anyone – kudos to Rhoda for her joy & faith!
  2. What is less understandable is the reaction of the others! They accused her of being out of her mind. μαίνομαι (~mania/maniac) = to be mad/insane. They basically accused her of being a lunatic, imagining things at the door.
  3. And it got worse. When she insisted, they explained it away with poor theology. It wasn’t so much that they believed Peter’s “ghost” was at the gate (which definitely would have been impossible – as when Christians are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord); they seemed to imagine that Peter’s so-called guardian angel was knocking on the door in his place. (1) An angel wouldn’t need to knock, nor can locked doors stop one! (2) Scripture doesn’t teach of guardian angels. Angels can (and are) sent by God to watch over us as ministering spirits (Heb 1:14), but the Bible never says that we have specific angels assigned to us. Although it may be a common belief among Christians, it doesn’t make it a correct belief. We need to ensure that our beliefs are based solely on the written word of God found in the Scripture.
  4. The bottom line for these particular Christians was that they simply found it impossible to believe that Peter might actually be standing at the door. They may have been praying for Peter’s release, but they didn’t believe that God would do the work. — Why is it so difficult to believe God works miracles? Why is it so hard to believe that God answers prayers? Christians might go through the motions of prayer because we know we’re supposed to pray, but we don’t believe God answers them. Why wouldn’t He? Is not our God alive? Is He not Almighty? Does He not love us? The Scripture is filled with examples of God answering prayer. Has He changed? Heaven forbid! God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is just as capable of answering prayers today as He was in the 1st century!
    1. One of the problems of having so little faith in prayer is that we lose confidence on any After all, if we don’t believe God truly responds to prayer, how do we know God answered our prayer for forgiveness and salvation? What confidence do we have in God at all? God answers prayer! Ask, seek, find! Luke 11:11–13, “(11) If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? (12) Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? (13) If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Believe that God answers prayer, because He does! (And the best prayer to be asked and answered is to be forgiven of our sins through Jesus Christ!)
  5. What was the result of their unbelief? Not only did the Christians inside miss out on the joy of knowing what God had done, poor Peter is left outside knocking at the door hoping that he doesn’t get discovered by some wandering guard!

16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.

  1. Peter’s persistence was the only thing that brought the people to the door, and they discovered that Rhoda had been right all along. This time, they were the ones beside themselves! “Astonished” = out of one’s senses, in a state of confusion. Peter didn’t have time to wait for them to get a grip. He told them the news, commanded them to pass it on to James & the other Christians in town (remember there were several thousand in Jerusalem – they couldn’t all be praying at Mary’s house!), and then got out of Jerusalem quickly. Just as Saul had to flee Damascus & Jerusalem, so did Peter. Peter had been rescued by the Lord, but he didn’t take his rescue for granted. He didn’t stay in Jerusalem waiting to be re-arrested. If God had commanded him to stay, he would have stayed (as he did in Acts 5). As it was, God had other plans for Peter, and Peter had the wisdom to keep moving.
  2. BTW – Don’t get confused on the “James” in verse 17. James, the brother of John & the son of Zebedee had been killed by Herod Agrippa I; James the half-brother of Jesus was still alive and an essential leader in the Jerusalem church.
  3. Don’t miss the key bit of Peter’s story: “the Lord had brought him out of the prison.” God had worked! The Lord Jesus rescued him! — Jesus rescues us! Again, we might not be rescued from all our hardships, trials, and persecutions – that’s not what Scripture promises. James the brother of John was not delivered from his execution, nor was Stephen from his stoning. But did they still belong to Jesus? Were they still rescued? Yes. In the things that really mattered, yes, they were certainly rescued! They were delivered from the judgment of their sin – they were rescued from eternal death – they were rescued from slavery to temptations and sinful desires, from being the men they used to be without Christ. They were rescued in the most important ways possible!
    1. It’s all about perspective. We have a tendency of seeing only what’s right in front of us, and unless God delivers us out of that situation, we think God has let us down. “I asked for healing, but God didn’t give it… I asked for a new job, but God didn’t bring it…” But that misses the bigger picture. To a toddler, the world is tiny. All he/she knows is what mommy or daddy brings: food, toys, blankets. But the world is a much bigger place! The toddler never sees what mommy and daddy have to do to ensure there’s food on the table, or a bed in which to take a nap. Beloved, life is far bigger than the things we can see! Life isn’t about the clothes we wear, the food we eat, or even 70-80-90 years put together; life is about eternity. We need a bigger perspective, and when we have it, we see how Jesus truly does rescue us in every way!
  • Aftermath (18-19)

18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

  1. We can easily imagine the reaction of the soldiers the next day…particularly the ones to whom Peter had been chained! They had quite the surprise in the morning, and no doubt it was all-hands-on-deck to try to find Peter. The search came up fruitless, and they were doomed. Herod wasn’t happy, and the soldiers were executed in Peter’s place.
  2. So what happened to Herod Agrippa afterwards?
  • Herod’s death (20-24). Judgment is real. Are you ready for it?

20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.

  1. As to what happened to make Herod “angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon,” we do not know. Although Herod Agrippa had a large kingdom, Tyre & Sidon (along with most of Phoenicia, ~ modern Lebanon) was outside his borders. Whatever had happened, he was intensely angry with them, and the people wanted a political reconciliation with the king. They needed to be in the good graces of Herod Agrippa if they were going to be financially prosperous (and eat!), so they allied themselves with the personal assistant of Agrippa, getting Blastus him to put in a good word for them.

21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.

  1. The Jewish historian Josephus notes the grandeur of Herod’s clothing, as having a robe made of silver (silver thread or plating?). As it caught the light of the sun, he had a radiant appearance, which combined with his impressive speech caused the people to go overboard in their flattery. No doubt, they were ready to shower him with praises no matter what he said (considering they were trying to get on his good side), but they cranked up the volume to 11 on their praise. They shouted that he spoke with “the voice of a god,” and kept shouting it over & over again. Whether they actually believed that he was divine was irrelevant; Herod ate it up. The people called him a god, and he was happy to receive the compliment. He basked in the glory of the people, doing nothing to “give glory to God.” Back in Chapter 10, Peter was quick to deflect the potential worship of Cornelius & the others, telling them to stand for he was only a man (Acts 10:26). Not so with Herod Agrippa. If people wanted to call him a god & worship him, it was no problem from his perspective.
  2. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He had already earned his judgment from God; this was the final act that confirmed it. Josephus backs up the account. Antiquities343-348 – Herod received the compliment, and saw an owl which he considered to be a bad omen. “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner,” (Ant 19.346). Five days later, he was dead. An angel of God immediately struck Herod in the moment, and the worms in his belly consumed him over the next week.
  3. There is no escaping the judgment of God! Herod Agrippa was a rich man, but his wealth did not buy him eternity. Agrippa was politically powerful, but he not powerful enough. It didn’t matter how friendly Agrippa may have been with the Roman Caesar when he was an enemy of Almighty God. Herod Agrippa led a life of wickedness, he had persecuted the church, ordered the murder of James (and others) and finally adopted the full pride of Satan as he stole the glory of God for himself. At that moment, there was no time to repent; his time was up.
    1. Scripture is clear: we will be judged. Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” Every man/woman dies, and every person stands before the judgment seat of God. There comes a moment of reckoning for each and every human being, during which every single sin ever committed must be answered. Herod Agrippa had no answer; what’s yours? We can either face the judgment of God naked, with our sins fully exposed to the all-seeing eyes of God, or we can face it clothed in the righteous of Jesus Christ & be welcomed into eternity as His children. The invitation is wide & open to all, but the window of opportunity is limited. 

24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

  1. Herod Agrippa was judged, but the church was blessed. Neither Herod nor the Jewish leadership could stop the gospel! The persecution had been intended to slow down or shut down the church; the opposite happened. Herod was killed while the church grew, and the gospel continued to spread to more & more areas. (A little taste of what was to come with Barnabas and Saul). The word of God can never be stopped!

Conclusion:

Things had looked bleak for the church in Jerusalem: James was dead, persecution was spreading, Peter was in prison, and Herod Agrippa kept growing in his power. Yet that was all on the surface. God had His own plan in motion, and sovereignly turned everything on its head! He rescued Peter from prison, answered the prayers of the church, and judged its persecutor in His holy wrath. God protected His church, and His gospel could not be stopped!

God still protects His church! Not even the gates of hell can prevail against what it is Jesus has built (and continues building)! Persecution may be real (and should be expected), but it does not stop the gospel. The good news of Jesus continues, no matter how violently and vehemently the world opposes it. God still answers prayers of rescue – sometimes through physical deliverance; always through spiritual eternal deliverance. God still judges the wicked – all men will give account to God, and He knows exactly who has brought harm to His people. What God did among Peter and the Jerusalem church, God still does today…God has not changed!

What is it that you believe is too difficult for God to do? What obstacle in your life do you think is too hard for God to overcome? God is sovereign over all things. If not the full power of the empire of ancient Rome can stop His work (or Persia, or Babylon, or Egypt, etc.) what else can do it? We need to trust the sovereign power of God, as well as the sovereign plan of God. We don’t always know why He allows the things He allows, but we can be sure that His purposes will not be thwarted in the end. In the grand scheme of things, God wins. Say it again: God wins.