Acts: For the Cause of Christ #22

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #22

Title: Gentile Salvation

Acts 15:1-35

Review of 14:1-28

Last week we saw as Paul and Barnabas finished their journey into Asia Minor going into new territories with the Gospel. They faced renewed opposition, they we mistaken for gods, Paul was attacked and stoned, they returned to the churched to establish leadership. Then returned home to Antioch in Syria to report on what God had done through them. We saw how churches should be discipling their members to continue the work of the gospel in on going cycle, and that doping the work of the gospel can have dangerous consequences. This week we see how the Jerusalem church handles disagreement and division over Gentile salvation.

There’s a story “of a father who was in his study reading, and he heard a commotion outside the window. It was his daughter who was playing with her friends. And it got louder and it got louder and more heated and more argumentative, until finally he could restrain himself no longer. And he pushed the window open and said, ‘Stop it. Honey what’s wrong?’ And after the reprimand sh responded quickly, ‘But, Daddy, we were just playing church’” (Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, © 1998, p95).

 

 

The Problem – vv 1-5

 

Some time after Paul and Barnabas had returned from Asia Minor, some men came to Antioch from Judea teaching the church that true salvation also meant following the Mosaic law, or at the very least following the covenant with circumcision. Why did these Judaizers come to Antioch? What was there concern or motivation? We can only assume as we are not told why. It is thought that some the Jewish Christians were concerned that a greater number of Genitles were being converted and being added to the church with no background of Judaism, and that this imbalance would bring the church down to a weakened moral state. How could this be kept from happening? Easy, the Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law. It is thought that some of these Jewish converts thought the church was the righteous remnant of Judaism, and if Paul and Barnabas weren’t going to insist on the following of the Law in Antioch or the new church plants, these Judaizers would correct it for them.

 

 

No wonder Paul and Barnabas, our “Dynamic Duo” of the last two chapters, donned their capes and leapt into action against these Judaizers. Paul and Barnabas argued and debated these men until the church decided to send our Duo and others to confer with the Jerusalem church, James, the Apostles and the other elders. On the way to Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas passed through the regions of Phoenicia and Samaria and told of their journey which caused great joy to the churches they visited.

 

 

When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem they gave their report of their journey through Asia Minor again. However this time, a faction of Pharisees that had believed spoke out saying these new Gentile Christians needed to follow the Law. One of my college professors, referred to the Pharisees as “the Sabbath Police” when we studied the book of Matthew. The Pharisee sect was more strict with the adherence of the Law, so this is no surprise that these believers were a part of the Pharisees.

 

We need to remember that we all have a little Pharisee in our blood. Any of us can become to strict on how certain things should be done, ought to be done, or have always been done. Doing certain things a certain way isn’t wrong, it becomes wrong if we give no room to adapt or attach to much significance to certain rituals or procedures or processes. We all need to be careful not to fall into this trap.

 

 

The Discussion – vv 6-21

 

Peter vv 7-11

After the Apostles and Elders of the church meet, there was still a great deal of debate that took place. When nothing was seemed to be settled, Peter took the floor. He began by reminding them that God had used him to go to the first Gentile converts, and reminded them that God gave those Gentiles the Holy Spirit in manner that was similar to Pentecost in chapter 2, as well as in Samaria in chapter 8. He tells them that God is not making a distinction between the Jews that had believed and the Gentiles that had believed, everyone had showed the same faith in the same Lord, and God cleansed or purified the hearts of those who believed.

 

 

 

Peter then asked those on the other side of the debate why they would burden their fellow disciples and brothers in the faith, not to mention testing God, by making the Gentile believers follow the Law that history has shown that the children of Israel couldn’t even follow. He then reminds them that not only do the Genitles believe that they have been saved by the grace of Jesus, but so do these Jewish believers.

 

 

Paul and Barnabas v12

It appears that there was some silence after Peter’s comments, during this time Barnabas and Paul stood and again recounted what had happened on their journey. It appears as though they seemed to emphasize the miraculous moments of their journey to help Peter’s point of the God doing the work. Paul and Barnabas preached grace, not law. “If you will review the record of the first missionary journey (Acts 13-14), you will see the emphasis is on what God did in response to men’s faith. See 13:8, 12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 22, 23, 27. Note also the emphasis on grace (13:43; 14:3, 26). God opened for the Gentiles ‘the door of faith,’ not ‘the door of the Law’” (Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Daring, © 1988, p 26). Peter had reminded those listening of God’s work in the past, Paul and Barnabas discussed what was presently happening, and then James was the last to speak and looked to the future.

 

 

James vv 13-21

James, the apparent leader of the Jerusalem Church, then took the floor to address the council. He refers back to Peter’s comments of how God has used Peter for the first official inclusion of Genitles into the Church, he then quotes from Amos 9:11-12 to show that the OT Scripture agrees with the inclusion of Gentiles. The problem comes with how we interpret James use of Amos 9. The immediate context of that passage “speaks judgement upon Israel and the whole house of Jacob (Amos 9:7,8), but holds out the promise that ‘in that day’  God will raise up the fallen royal house of David and will restore his realm” (Kent Jr, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 126). So we have this passage that is clearly referring to the future of Israel and the future physical kingdom of Christ that is being used to back up the inclusion of Gentiles into the Church, how should we understand that? Well there are a few different opinions, but the one I agree with, the one that does the most justice to both the OT and NT is “that gentile salvation without circumcision meets with no contradiction in the OT. the promises to Israel will yet be be literally fulfilled, but will occur ‘in that day’ [Christ returning in His glory]” (Kent, p126).  Since we know that Christ’s return is still yet to come we notice James’ use of the phrase “after these things” to show how the prophecy works with God’s current activity. “James als inserted the words, ‘I will return’ to make it clear that fulfillment of Israel’s blessings must await Christ’s return” (Kent, p126).

 

 

 

After quoting from Amos, James gives his opinion that they shouldn’t give any difficulties to Gentile Christians about having to follow the Law.  He does suggest that they issue some general conduct guidelines for the Gentile Christians to follow. It appears the guidelines were given since there are followers of Judaism all over the known world and the Gentile Christians should avoid offending them unnecessarily, so that there can be a witness to the unbelieving Jews. Christianity is still tied closely to Judaism at this time.

 

 

 

Letter – vv 22-29

 

James suggestion won the day and seemed to calm tension. The church then decided on two men to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with the letter containing the decision of the Jerusalem Council. We do not know anything else of the Judas, but we are introduced to Silas here, and it is my understanding that this the same Silas that will travel with Paul in the near future and is referenced in a number of Paul’s letters.

 

 

The Letter itself starts by stating the the men who had gone to Antioch teaching the requirements of the Law had not been given authorization from the church to do so, but that they were now sending Paul and Barnabas back along with Judas and Silas who will each give the same news to the Antioch church.

 

 

 

They note that the decision reached was not only the church’s but also by the Holy Spirit. Even though the Spirit wasn’t mentioned earlier, we see here how the Spirit usually works. Miraculous events don’t need to take place for the Spirit to be present. Christians that are filled by the Spirit can detect His presence when there is harmony that prevails as people respond to the Spirit’s will.

 

 

 

The guidelines are then listed. The Gentiles should keep themselves from food offered to idols (Paul expands on this in 1 Corinthians 8), sexual immorality, meat from animals that have been strangled, and eating blood. The elements of the decision relating to food, do go back to OT commands. I think this should be understood as a matter of conscience and go the principle in 1 Corinthians 8. It is thought that issue of sexual immorality goes back to the rules of marriage in Leviticus 18, but in many of the gentile cultures sexual immorality was prevalent especially under the guise of religion so a reminder about avoiding this issue was not unwarranted.

 

 

 

In 16:4-5 we see Paul and Silas tell the churches he is revisiting about this decision, it is possible he took a copy of the letter, or the original, along with him.

 

 

Outcome – vv 30-35

 

With the letter written, the men chosen, there was nothing else to do, but to send it. When Paul and the others arrived in Antioch they got the entire congregation together for the public reading of the letter. This letter was received with great rejoicing. The status of Gentile converts was viewed as true salvation, by the “mother church” in Jerusalem.

 

 

Judas and Silas also encouraged the Antioch congregation through adding their gifts of prophecy and teaching along with those in Antioch. After some time, we don’t know how much, Silas and Judas went back to Jerusalem with peace from the Antioch church for themselves and the church of Jerusalem. After they had gone Paul and Barnabas again resumed their ministries of teaching and preaching the Word of Lord with their fellow leaders in the church.

 

 

You might be wondering if I skipped verse 34, yes I did. Verse 34 is only found in a few manuscripts, and not found in the manuscripts generally thought to be the most reliable, so many translations omit it, or place it in brackets or will note that it is not likely original to the text. Now you might be thinking, if you read ahead, that this would create a problem with verse 40. Not really. If we assume that there is some time between verse 33 and verse 40, then Paul could have sent for Silas to come to Antioch to join him on his next journey.

 

Conclusion:

We saw that we need to be careful not to attach too much importance to certain things, certains ways things are done. We need to be careful not to get caught in the trap of the Pharisees.

We also need to remember that if, and when, disagreements enter the church we need to seek the Lord’s guidance, treat each other with love and respect, and remember the things that we should fight for (doctrines, the gospel, etc.) are more important than the color of the wall or carpet or who has what ministry now. Churches need to find ways to promote unity within their memberships. Speaking of unity…

“Picture a couple of comic strip characters. One sitting alone, watching television. In storms the other, demanding that he change the channel to show the one she wants to watch, threatening him with her fat little fist in his face. Rather meekly he asks her what makes her think she can walk in and take over. She blurts out: ‘These five fingers!’ which she tightens into a fist. It works. Without a word the little guy responds by asking which channel she prefers. Naturally, she gets to watch any channel she wants. Slowly, he slips out of the room, feeling like a wimp. He looks at his own five fingers and askes, ‘Why can’t you guys get organized like that?’” (Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, © 1998, p 599).   I think most of you know those characters as “Lucy” and her brother “Linus”.

Most importantly we see that salvation is grace by faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 we could all probably quote those verses from memory. We cannot add to the gospel works or rules, and we cannot take away from the gospel. Doing either of those will pervert the gospel into something it is not.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #21

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #21

Title: Paul’s First Missionary Journey Pt 2for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-acts

Acts 14:1-28

Review of 13:1-52

Last week we saw how Paul, Barnabas and John Mark set out from Antioch is Syria. We saw that the local church and the Lord’s leading work hand in hand to send out workers in the field for the gospel. We saw as they passed through Cyprus and encountered a false teacher that God will and does judge those who oppose the gospel and the church. We saw that opposition will come, but that our responsibility is to be faithful to Christ and proclaim the gospel and let the Lord handle the outcome, whatever that may be.

This week we conclude Paul’s first journey as he and Barnabas go as far as Derbe and then retrace their steps home.

 

 

Iconium – vv 1-7 

Paul and Barnabas had left Antioch of Pisidia and headed to Iconium about eighty miles away. Here, we see that they continued their procedure of going to the Synagogue to reach the Jewish population first. Again, there message was heard with great results as many Jews and God-fearing Greeks accepted the Christ as savior. I say God-fearing Greeks here, because it appears that Luke is making a distinction in this section between the Greeks that are attending synagogue and the Gentile population of the city that we will see in verse 2.

 

 

Like we saw in Antioch las time, the unbelieving Jews began stirring up trouble for Paul and Barnabas. They did everything they could to get Paul and Barnabas kicked out, they began to prejudice the Gentile population and leaders against the missionaries and the new Christian converts. However, it seems that this was somewhat of a slow process. In verse 3, we are told the Paul and Barnabas “stayed there a long time”. We don’t know how long that time was, but they continued to speak boldly for the Lord. And the Lord used them as they “testified to the message of His grace” by allowing the to do signs and wonders. Here again we see that in the Apostolic time of the new revelation of salvation by grace through faith, God uses His witnesses to be able to do miraculous events through His power, to help validate the new message from the Lord. Here the gospel message is referred to as “the message of his grace” as God’s grace is the subject matter of the message.

 

 

 

After some time, things began to go sideways. The town became divided as some took the side of the Jews and others with Paul and Barnabas. Now here and in verse 14 Paul and Barnabas are referred to as apostles. Generally we do not think of Barnabas as an Apostle like Paul or Peter and the Twelve, but the word has a broader meaning of messenger, so Luke may be referring to Paul and Barnabas being commissioned messengers from the church in Antioch of Syria, or since Paul is an Apostle commissioned by Jesus Himself, Luke is referring to Barnabas “as a member of the apostolic party (with Paul’s Apostleship in a sense lending its authority to Barnabas)” (Kent, Homer A. Jr, Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 115). The trouble climaxes here in verse 5 when a mob of unbelieving Jews, including the Jewish leadership, and Gentiles was formed to mistreat and stone them. One source suggests that execution may not have been the plan, but just harass Paul and Barnabas and to pelt them with stones. Having heard of the plot before hand, Paul and Barnabas decided it was better to leave town. The left Iconium and headed to Lycaonian countryside as well as the towns of Lystra and Derbe. Luke mentions that they went to the Lycaonian region, Paul and Barnabas had crossed a political boundary when they fled from Iconium, the idea is that they had reached safety by crossing into a new region, far enough from those seeking to do them harm in Iconium.  Lystra was about twenty miles south of Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas continued to preach the gospel.

 

For Paul and Barnabas they again faced opposition to their mission, the Lord’s mission of spreading the gospel. Though they fled from the city, quite possibly for their lives, I don’t think they were necessarily discouraged. They knew they had left Iconium in the hands of the Lord as He led the new church plant there. They had succeeded presenting the Gospel both to the Jews, Jewish proselytes and Gentile worshippers of God. They left the rest of the city to the new church and the Lord. They went to new ground. The Lord let them face some opposition in Antioch and Iconium so they could go to new ground have a new opportunity to preach the gospel.

 

 

Is Lord opening new ground to you? Is He opening a door you maybe haven’t considered? Just because we face difficulties, it doesn’t mean that the Lord has forgotten us. Maybe, the Lord has something different in mind. We just need to be faithful to the Lord, and continue in obedience to Him.

 

 

Lystra – vv 8-20a

 

Lystra was established as a Roman colony in 25 BC as was Pisidian Antioch by Augustus to help keep peace in that region of the empire. Antioch and Lystra were connected by a military road that did not pass through Iconium. So Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium first, probably because it was a little closer to Antioch than Lystra and, I think, because there was a least one synagogue there.

 

 

 

There is no reference to a Synagogue in Lystra, so it appears that this was all new ground for the missionaries. Most of the people in Lystra, and Derbe as well, had no understanding of the God of Israel, they weren’t looking for a promised Messiah, they had their pagan gods and pagan worship. Though Paul and Barnabas lived in Antioch in Syria where there was lots of paganism and its related worship, Lystra and Derbe were remote and basically the frontier of Roman Empire in the First Century. Think of it in terms of a modern city like Lima, Peru that is only few hundred miles from jungle tribes with little or no modern way of life. So with no synagogue or evidence of a Jewish community, it appears that Paul and Barnabas started doing what today we call “street evangelism”.

 

 

While Paul and Barnabas were preaching and teaching there in Lystra, a man who had been born crippled and unable to walk was sitting nearby listening to Paul and had demonstrated faith to Paul somehow, that the Lord allowed Paul to heal this man. Luke isn’t very clear as to whether this man displayed faith in Jesus for salvation or if he merely trusted that Paul was able to help him somehow. Like Peter healing the beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem in chapter 3, this man was lame from birth and the healing could have only been done in a miraculous way.

 

 

 

The healing of the man was obvious to everyone around. It is likely this was all happening the marketplace where lots of people are around. I’m sure that Paul was using that spiritual gift the way it was supposed to be used, which is ultimately for God’s glory, but also as a way to validate that Paul’s message of the true God of the universe had power behind its truth, but I don’t think Paul had in mind what happened next.

 

 

What’s happening here? I think everyone knew that a miracle had taken place. No one doubted that, but the people of Lystra took Paul and Barnabas as gods of the Greek Pantheon in human form, Barnabas as Zeus and Paul as Hermes. Why? “The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – AD 17) records the ancient myth concerning a visit of Zeus and Hermes to the neighboring region of Phrygia, disguised as mortals. All turned them away except one [elderly] couple…on the Lycaonian border. Later a flood came in judgement and drowned all except this couple” (Kent, p117). Apparently the people of Lystra didn’t want a repeat of this myth, so the started preparing sacrifices and honors for their visiting “gods”. Luke records that they were using their native language of Lycaonian, as Paul was probably speaking to them in Greek, so Paul and Barnabas didn’t understand what was happening until it was nearly too late.

When Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening they acted very quickly. It is thought that the priest of Zeus and the crowd had brought the bulls to the door where the missionaries were staying, and that was when Paul and Barnabas realized what was about to happen. They ran into the crowd ripping the tunics, ripping their shirts. Why would they do that? It is a Jewish response of horror to blasphemy. This was done by the High Priest at Jesus’ trial when He answered truthfully to being the Messiah (Mk 14:60-64).

 

 

 

Then Paul and Barnabas, after getting the attention of the crowd, began explaining that they were just flesh and blood humans as their listeners were, and were sent as messengers by the One True God. The summary Luke gives here is one of two examples we have in Acts of reaching out to a purely pagan culture.  They started by telling the crowds that they were simply messengers calling the people of Lystra from their worthless dead idols to the true, living, creator God. Since there is no OT foundation on which to build, the missionaries started by going to what they had around them, the natural revelation of God’s creation. They tell the crowd that God had created everything, and though He let every nation “go their own way”, God had left them a witness of Himself, nature. Specifically the missionaries talk about God giving everybody rain, changing seasons, and harvests of food. Today we refer to this as an element of God’s common grace. God gives things sunshine, crops, changing seasons to everybody whether they worship Him or not. This is a similar discussion that Paul talks about in more detail in Romans 1:18-25. After this explanation, Paul and Barnabas were able to just stop the sacrifices from being made in their honor.

 

 

We are not given any amount of time between verses 18 and 19 so we don’t know how long after the near miss of the sacrifices that trouble coming to Lystra for Paul and Barnabas. Evidently there were some converts to Christianity during their time Lystra as we see in verse 20, and it is thought that Timothy and his family may have been from Lystra and may have come to Christ during this trip. So there is some fruit in this mission field, but now we have unbelieving Jews that have followed Paul and Barnabas to from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, gathered more unbelieving Jews from Iconium and have now entered Lystra. Somehow they won over crowds against the missionaries.

 

 

 

Again we see how fickle public opinion can be. One moment Paul was a god to be worshipped, now he was criminal to executed. This the stoning Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 11:25. It has been said that “a mob [is] ‘a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason’” (Weirsbe, Warren W., Be Daring, © 1988, p 18). This small band of disciples were in a critical moment, their leader is thought to be dead, they are outnumbered by those had attacked Paul, however this group of believers didn’t leave Paul’s side when he was left for dead. Verse 20 tells us that they gathered around him, they may have been praying. We aren’t told for certain if Paul was dead and that God raised to back life or if the Lord had protected Paul somehow to keep him from dying. Either way Paul stands up, goes back into the town for the night.

 

Sometimes opposition to the Gospel is just used to open a new door. Sometimes, it literally follows you. That is what happened here. Opposing Jews followed Paul from Pisidian Antioch to gather reinforcements from Iconium to go into pagan, gentile Lystra to whip up a crowd to try to eliminate Paul. As Christians we are to preach and teach the gospel. Most times, I think, physical abuse doesn’t happen. Especially here in the US where Christians have had a very easy time for a long time, but sometimes, for the Cause of  Christ, for the cause of the gospel, physical abuse cannot be avoided. We have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world facing horrific persecution, for simply believing on Christ and trying to live out their faith. But in here in the US, we’re afraid to lose our job, to be laughed at, or to simply be brushed aside.

 

 

From Derbe to Home v20b-28

 

The next morning Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe around sixty miles away from Lystra to the southeast. Luke tells us nothing of the time Paul and Barnabas spend in Derbe. We can only assume that it was somewhat peaceful as it was fruitful. Many disciples were made in Derbe, one of note is Gaius who is later mentioned as travelling companion of Paul in chapter 20.

 

 

 

After Derbe, instead of travelling the shorter route home to Antioch in Syria by land through Tarsus, the missionaries decided to return the way they came more or less. They went back to Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch to encourage the new disciples and to help establish leadership in the local churches in those towns. It is thought that there may have been some turnover in civil governments in those cities making it relatively more safe for them to return, even if that wasn’t the case we must recognize the courage of these men to return to the cities were they had faced various degrees of opposition, violence and injustice.

Here in verse 23 we see that Paul and Barnabas are appointing elders, other translations say “ordain” instead of appoint. The verb used originally meant essentially vote by raised hands. I’m not going to hold this verse as key to congregational government. There is an argument there, as the verb is used in 2 Corinthians 8:19 where the idea of congregational selection is in focus, as well as the the fact the congregational selection was already established as an apostolic practice as we saw in chapter 6 with the selection of the Seven. This verse isn’t as clear, but I think Warren Wiersbe says it best when stated, “[i]t is possible that Paul chose the men and the congregation voted its approval, or that the people selected them by vote and Paul ordained them” (Wiersbe, p 19). Though he doesn’t come down on a specific side, I agree that either of those options is probably what Luke meant. It appears the selection of these pastors, was done with prayer and fasting, and then Paul and Barnabas committed these men and the churches to Lord before continuing their journey home.

 

 

After leaving Pisidian Antioch they travelled through Pisidia again and into the region of Pamphylia and came to the city of Perga. Here is where they started their journey into Asia Minor, and where John Mark had left to return home. We are told they preached in Perga, this was not mentioned earlier in chapter 3 and we can only assume if they did or not in that earlier visit. After stopping in Perga, they headed to the port city of Attalia which was the primary port for Pamphylia.  After leaving Attalia they bypassed Cyprus and sailed directly back for Antioch of Syria. Luke doesn’t tell us here if they return to the port of Seleucia, but I think they did.

 

 

There was probably great excitement when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch. They had returned to their “sending church” to report about everything God had done for them. Imagine the excitement when they described they dangers faced, how God provided, how He directed, and of course how He had used them to open wider the door of faith and salvation to the Gentiles. The missionaries probably returned to their normal ministries there in Antioch as they stayed there for awhile.

 

 

 

Most of these cities and towns of this first journey have been in a couple of different regions, but they all belonged to the larger province of Galatia. These cities were in the southern part of Galatia, the name you recognize as one of Paul’s letters. There are two theories for the dating of Galatians. One is the “northern theory” and the other is the “southern theory”. If the northern view is correct, then Galatians was written to other churches and was written somewhere between AD 52/53-56 around the time he wrote Romans. If the southern view is correct, then the churches that Paul and Barnabas help plant and establish on this first journey were the recipients of the book of Galatians, and the date for Galatians would be AD 48 or 49, before the Jerusalem Council which is generally dated at AD 49. Why say all that now, because if the southern view is correct, then here between chapters 14 and 15 of Acts is when Paul is writing Galatians, making it one of the earliest books of the NT.

 

Just like Barnabas had done in Antioch by getting Paul, the missionaries knew that they need to make sure these new church had mature, established leadership that was committed to Lord and the work of the Gospel. We know churches need to be organized, organizations need leadership, and churches are organisms as well as organization. Not only should the leadership be committed to Lord and the Gospel, but the members of the church should be as well. Leadership of churches is supposed to train members for the work of the Gospel so they can do their part of the Great Commission and go and help make disciples, so the leadership finds new members in the church to train. As Paul and Barnabas did so should current missionaries or other church members sent out for a short time report back on their mission and experiences. The church invests time, prayer, and usually some funds so it is as much the mission of that local church as it is the worker

Conclusion:

For Paul and Barnabas they again faced opposition to their mission, the Lord’s mission of spreading the gospel. They left the rest of the city to the new church and the Lord. They went to new ground. The Lord let them face some opposition in Antioch and Iconium so they could go to new ground have a new opportunity to preach the gospel. Is Lord opening new ground to you? Is He opening a door you maybe haven’t considered? Just because we face difficulties, it doesn’t mean that the Lord has forgotten us. Maybe, the Lord has something different in mind. We just need to be faithful to the Lord, and continue in obedience to Him.

Sometimes opposition to the Gospel is just used to open a new door. Sometimes, it literally follows you. Opposing Jews followed Paul from Pisidian Antioch to gather reinforcements from Iconium to go into pagan, gentile Lystra to whip up a crowd to try to eliminate Paul. As Christians we are to preach and teach the gospel. Most times, I think, physical abuse doesn’t happen here in the US where Christians have had a very easy time for a long time, but sometimes, for the Cause of  Christ, physical abuse cannot be avoided. We have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world facing horrific persecution, for simply believing on Christ and trying to live out their faith. But in here in the US, we’re afraid to lose our job, to be laughed at, or to simply be brushed aside.

Churches need to be training their members to go out and the work of the gospel. This should be an ongoing cycle. Churches that are so focused on their inward needs or preferences are in danger of being ineffectual as well as heading down a slippery slope to the death of the church. How are our churches doing?

What are we doing for the Cause of Christ? What are you doing for the Cause of Christ?

 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #20

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #20

Title: Paul’s First Journey – Pt 1

Acts 13:1-52

Introduction

Last week we saw how God was still actively aiding and protecting the church in Jerusalem as Herod Agrippa began persecuting the church by arrest James the brother of John and Peter. Though James was executed, God divinely helped Peter escape the same fate. We also saw how God judged Herod Agrippa for accepting worship as if he were a god and quite possibly for executing James and harassing Peter. We saw that the church, fervently praying on Peter’s behalf had their prayer answered, and that the church continued to grow and the word of God flourished. Luke then turns the attention back to Barnabas and Saul who have completed their mission of delivering a relief fund from Antioch, and returned to Antioch with John Mark. This week, we start Paul’s first missionary journey from Antioch in chapter 13.

 

1. Antioch and Cyprus vv 1-12

 

Antioch

Luke focuses back on the church of Antioch in Syria as we begin this chapter. Luke gives us a brief view of some of the leadership in Antioch. Barnabas and Saul we know are gifted teachers. These other men we know little to nothing about. Simeon (or Simon) called Niger we only know that both his Hebrew and Latin, not Greek, names are given. The name Niger means black, leading many to think he had a dark complexion and was possibly from the northern coast of Africa, but that is not for certain. Next we are told Lucius from Cyrene, also had a Latin name and because he was from Cyrene we do know he was from the northern coast of Africa, but nothing else is known. Then we meet Manaen, we don’t know anything else about him except that he was a close friend of Herod Antipas. It is suggested, that Manaen grew up with Antipas in the court of Herod the Great, much like Agrippa had grown up in Rome with Caligula. These men were prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch. It can be assumed that these three men could have been involved in the original planting of this church.

 

 

 

We are told that “as they were worshipping the Lord and fasting”, whether this refers to a worship service of the church or these men were having a time of fasting for something like a “men’s bible study”, I’m not too sure. But, during this time of fasting, the Holy Spirit made it clear that Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart or separated from the rest of the church for the work He had for them. In chapter 9 we saw how the Lord Jesus had chosen Saul to take the gospel to the gentile world, now Barnabas was being included as well. They finished their fast, prayed about this commission and then the leaders laid hands on the newly appointed missionaries. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit, working through the local church, calls and equips people for service. It is the local church, not a denomination, or mission agency that sends missionaries. Barnabas and Saul took John Mark with them, as we see a few verses later, went to the nearby port at Seleucia and set sail for the island of Cyprus.

 

 

Cyprus

The party arrived in Salamis, a port city on the far eastern coast of the the island. This city had a Jewish settlement that was large enough to more than one synagogue. Here is Salamis, the team establishes their pattern for the journey, enter the cities, find the Jewish section if the Jews do not listen go to the Gentiles. However we were told in chapter 11:19 that disciples that fled Jerusalem from the persecution after Stephen had come to Cyprus, so it is possible that there may have been a small group of believers already established.

 

 

 

Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark travelled across the whole island, we can assume they preached at any town or city they came to along the way, until they reached the capital city of Cyprus, Paphos. Here the Roman proconsul was a man named Sergius Paulus. Though we are told the proconsul was an intelligent man, he had as part of his advisors a Jewish false prophet (or teacher) and sorcerer named Bar-Jesus or son of Jesus (Joshua). Later Luke calls him Elymas which means sorcerer. Sergius Paulus wants to hear what Barnabas and Saul have to say, he must have been somewhat interested in theology to summon these men. Elymas tries to counter their argument and sway the proconsul away from the gospel.

 

 

 

We are given for the first time Saul’s Roman name or Paul, and for the rest of Acts he is referred to as Paul. Paul recognizes Elymas for what he is, a son of the devil and certainly not a child of God. Through the Lord’s power Paul works a miracle against Elymas blinding him for an undetermined time. This miracle is enough to cause Sergius Paulus to believe. There is disagreement as to whether this belief was for salvation, I tend to think that Luke is saying the this Roman Proconsul, as Gentile as you can get, believed the gospel that Paul and Barnabas had presented it. Paphos held a blinded Jew and a believing Gentile.

 

We see that missionaries are raised up and sent out by the Lord and the local church. It is the local church’s job, by way of its leadership (Pastors, teachers, etc.) to “[equip] the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

 

 

We see with Elymas that the Lord will and does judge those who oppose the Gospel and the church. Elymas was a Jew, he should have known better. The more light we are given, the more accountable to God we are for that light, of course Elymas may have been Jewish by birth and hadn’t been a practicing Jew for a long time. Our job is to share the gospel and be true disciples of Jesus, God will judge those who oppose the church, who oppose Him.

 

 

2. Antioch in Pisidia vv 13-52

 

Paul’s Sermon vv 13-41

After the encounter in Paphos, Paul and the others set sail to north from Cyprus to Asia Minor and came to Perga in the region of Pamphylia. Luke doesn’t give us any details here, other than for some reason John Mark decides to leave Paul and Barnabas and return to Jerusalem. There are many suggestions given as to why John Mark left, one is that the wild area of Pisidia was known for robbers and John Mark did not want to continue north from Perga. However, the truth is we do not know for sure.

 

 

 

 

Paul and Barnabas did continue north to Pisidian Antioch about 100 miles north of Perga. They went to a synagogue on Sabbath and listened to the reading of the Law and the Prophets. It was customary for visiting Rabbis to be invited to offer a message based on the readings from the service, Paul may have been identified as a former student of the famed Gamaliel and was asked to speak.

 

 

 

 

Paul’s first recorded sermon in Acts follows, he is addressing Jews as well as God-fearing Gentiles. His sermon is similar to Stephen’s as it follows Jewish history, and similar to Peter’s at Pentecost in the interpretation of certain OT passages. He starts with the Egyptian captivity and exodus, the wilderness wanderings and then the conquering of the land. He mentions the judges, and Samuel, Saul and David. Here, Paul ties God’s promised Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, to David’s descendants, God fulfilled the promise. He confirms that John the Baptist was the forerunner preparing the way for the Messiah before he continues.

 

 

 

Paul now gets to the meat of the gospel. He shows how the Jewish Leadership fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah, they refused to recognize in Jesus. Verses 30-37 Paul spends more time on as he deals with the resurrection of Jesus as the best proof that Jesus was/is the Messiah. He interprets Psalm 2:7 as referring to Christ’s resurrection. Then he cites Isaiah 55 showing that if Jesus had remained dead and buried, He couldn’t be the Messiah, then Paul quotes Psalm 16 showing that promise was about the Messiah and not David himself. [read 36-7] David died, and was buried. His body saw decay, as did his ancestors, but Jesus was raised not to see decay, and not to face it again.

 

 

 

Paul closes his message with a call of repentance and faith. He tells his audience that they can only find forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and that justification before God’s throne is found in Jesus, not in Moses. We hear similar statements from Paul in Romans and Galatians. In Romans 3:19-20 Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.” Then in Galatians 2:16 he says, “and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified”, and Galatians 3:11 reads, “Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.”

 

 

 

 

Paul closes in verses 40 and 41 with a warning from prophets. This is a reference back to Habakkuk 1:5. In that instance God was telling Israel that He would punish them by using the evil Chaldean empire, Paul using the same verse warns those listening not miss out of God’s forgiveness through the Jewish Messiah of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Aftermath vv 42-52

 

 

 

Paul’s words were heard with great interest and many coming to faith in Christ. Paul and Barnabas were invited to return the following week to speak again, and many began following Paul and Barnabas whom they were encouraging. Things seem to be going well.

 

 

 

The following Sabbath, news of the missionaries and their message had spread and nearly the whole town had come. Not only God-fearers and proselytes to Judaism, but unbelieving Gentiles came as well. This caused the unrepentant Jews to become jealous and angry. Whether this jealousy was more envy that they had not reached so many people or that they wanted to protect their traditions and teachings and the promises of God for the Gentiles, I’m not sure. Their reaction however was to insult and contradict Paul’s teaching, thereby blaspheming against the Word of the God.

 

 

 

 

Paul and Barnabas knew what their mission was. They knew what the Lord wanted them to do. So they told the Jewish community that the message of the gospel had to go to the Jews first, but since they deemed themselves better than the Word of God, Paul and Barnabas announced they would continue to go to the Gentiles. To back up their decision, they quoted from Isaiah 49:6, “‘he says, “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”’”

 

 

 

 

When the Gentiles heard that the missionaries would be declaring salvation to them, they were overjoyed. Many believed and the gospel continued to spread from Pisidian Antioch as well. There are many arguments and debates over the doctrine of election, but it is unavoidable as Scripture is clear that God chooses whom He will. Here in verse 48 we see another example of God’s election. This is also an example of human responsibility working with God’s sovereignty.

 

 

 

The Jews wanted Paul and Barnabas out of their town. They spoke with some prominent God-fearing women and leading men in the city. It is possible that these men are the husbands of these God-fearing women. This created opposition to Paul and Barnabas and caused to have the missionaries thrown out of town.

 

 

 

 

Paul and Barnabas did what they could in Antioch of Pisidia, but now what they could do was shake the dust of their sandals as a testimony against the unbelievers, you might remember that Jesus told the twelve to do the same in Luke 9:5 when He sent them out proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The missionaries then moved on to the city of Iconium about eighty miles away leaving new disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and joy in Antioch.

 

We can’t control what happens. Paul and Barnabas were welcomed into the Jewish synagogue, and experienced positive results with and crowds hungering for more. But the gospel will meet opposition. Our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel, we can’t make someone accept Christianity. That is between the Lord and the individual. Human responsibility and divine sovereignty go hand in hand. We can’t explain it perfectly. We can’t explain God’s election for salvation perfectly either, and if you hear someone say they completely understand the doctrine of election they are probably very arrogant and have deluded themselves into thinking that they are so smart and so wise. Only the Godhead fully understands the doctrine of election.

Conclusion:

We see that missionaries are raised up and sent out by the Lord and the local church. It is the local church’s job to “[equip] the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). This should be a continuing cycle for the local church to develop leaders and workers, send them out and start developing new leaders and workers.

We see with Elymas that the Lord will and does judge those who oppose the Gospel and the church. The more light we are given, the more accountable to God we are for that light. Our job is to share the gospel and be true disciples of Jesus, God will judge those who oppose the church, who oppose Him.

We can’t control what happens. Paul and Barnabas were welcomed into the Jewish synagogue, and experienced positive results with and crowds hungering for more. But the gospel will meet opposition. Our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel, we can’t make someone accept Christianity. That is between the Lord and the individual. Human responsibility and divine sovereignty go hand in hand.