The First & Continuing Missionary Adventure (Acts 13)

Acts 13 from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘missionary’? Pith helmets, savages, martyrs?  Ever think of yourself as a ‘missionary’? Or to use more contemporary language, a ‘mission partner’? Well that’s the theme of our Mission Sunday with special guest speaker Dick Dowsett on Sunday 27th March. We are going to see that the Lord has entrusted to each one of us, the good news of the gospel. He has given each one of us a ministry of reconciliation. On our Mission Sunday we are going to be challenged to get involved with one of more of our mission partner agencies – not just pray for them, not just give to them, but go with them. Our aim is that in years to come we will be sending mission teams out every year to work with churches in other parts of the Uk, Europe and the world. Tonight we are going to tag along with the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey. I want us to see that it is in fact a continuing missionary adventure because it isn’t over yet. We usually identify the preaching of the Gospel with the quiet rural lakeside villages of Galilee where our Lord ministered. It can all sometimes seem rather remote and distant from our busy urban environment. The irony is however that the Church growth recorded in the Book of Acts was almost exclusively an urban expansion. Historian Wayne Meeks writes,

“within a decade of the crucifixion of Jesus, the village culture of Palestine had been left behind, and the Greco-Roman city had become the dominant environment of the Christian movement.”

The Church which began in Jerusalem spread to other cities beginning with Samaria, then Damascus, Caesarea and Antioch. This was no accident but a definite strategy of the Holy Spirit to concentrate on important centres of population connected by fast and safe Roman roads. If you count the number of cities mentioned in Acts how many will you find? You’ll find at least forty named.   In chapters 13-14, Luke records Paul’s first missionary journey to six different cities beginning and ending at Antioch. (show map)

1. Antioch in Syria                 – Decision       13:1-5
2. Paphos on Cyprus             – Deception    13:6-12
3. Perga in Pamphylia          – Desertion     13:13
4. Antioch in Pisidia             – Disputation  13:14-52
5. Iconium                              – Division        14:1-7
6. Lystra                                 – Delusion       14:8-20
7. Antioch in Syria                 – Declaration  14:21-28

In the first verses of Acts 13, Barnabas and Paul were set apart by the Holy Spirit, and commissioned by the Church at Antioch.  Barnabas and Paul took John Mark with them and sailed for Cyprus from the port of Seleucia. At Paphos they had their first main confrontation with a certain Bar-Jesus a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet.  The trio had only got as far as the Turkish coast and John Mark had had enough. He wanted to go home, so he returned to Jerusalem.  We know nothing of his reason. When he is mentioned again in chapter 15 however, Paul is unwilling to risk taking Mark again. Barnabas and Paul traveled inland a further 100 miles north and about 3.500 feet up through the Taurus mountains to get to the important city of Pisidian Antioch. As a consequence of that journey, Luke tells us in 13:49 “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” Lets find out how.

Antioch in Pisidia was founded by Seleucus Nicator as a commercial centre commanding the great trade routes between Cilicia and Ephesus.  Emperor Augustus had converted it to a Roman colony to control the local population. As you follow Paul’s journeys in Acts, you will notice that he selected strategic cities, planted churches in them, and went on to evangelize the surrounding areas as long as the civil authorities would let him.  Each time he would begin his work in the local synagogue, where people had a knowledge of the Old Testament. Here he was among those he could identify with most closely, and where he found both Jews and Gentile proselytes ready to hear the Word of God.  As a trained rabbi, a graduate of the famous school of Gamaliel in Jerusalem, Paul could be sure of an initial hearing. What follows in chapter 13 is the first of Paul’s recorded sermons, and it has three parts. Each is introduced with the phrase “men of Israel”, or “brothers”. 13:16, 26, 38.  Paul had not gone to the Synagogue, hoping for an invitation to lunch, nor for the opportunity to expound the theories of Hillel. Paul was seeking an opportunity to speak about Jesus. And we must pray for the same.  As we look at Paul’s first sermon, imagine that later tonight you too are going to explain your faith to a Jewish neighbour. Let’s learn from Paul’s model.

1. Preparation: Israel’s Holy Mission                     13:16-25
2. Declaration: Israel’s Hideous Mistake                13:26-37
3. Application: Israel’s Historic Moment                13:38-41
4. Consequences of Paul’s Preaching                     13:42-52

1. Preparation: Israel’s Holy Mission (13:16-25)

Notice how Paul connects with his audience. He begins with facts that are familiar to them, with truths they already believe.

1.1 A Special People          (13:16-18)

“Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “People of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness” (Acts 13:16-18).

Paul begins by building bridges.  He speaks of “the God of our fathers”. He reminds them of their common heritage, of God’s plan for His people. Of How God protected them, delivered them. A special people.

1.2  A Special Place (13:19-20)

“and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years.” After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet.” (Acts 13:19-20).

Paul reminds them of God’s original provision of a special land for a special people.

1.3  A Special Prince (13:21-22)

“Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ (Acts 13:21-22).

Israel had demanded a king, and God had first of all given them Saul, and then David to rule over them. Then in unbroken continuity Paul tells them of David’s descendant, the Messiah, Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, come to save His people. A special people, a special place, a special prince.

1.4 A Special Promise (13:23-25)

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is someone coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ (Acts 13:23-25).

Every pious Jew knew that the Messiah would come from David’s family, and that a prophet would announce His coming before hand. That prophet, well known and popularly recognized, was John the Baptist. The coming of Jesus was to be the consummation of all history. At this point Paul switches gear. Having identified with them, reminded them, prepared them, Paul declares the meaning behind their rejection and crucifixion of Jesus. So we have seen Paul begins with: Preparation: Israel’s Holy Mission.

2. Declaration : Israel’s Hideous Mistake        13:26-37

2.1 The Challenge to his Hearers     13:26

“Brothers and sisters from the children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.” (Acts 13:26)

From “us” Paul changes approach and speaks of “them”, and “we”.

2.2  The Charge Against the Hebrews   13:27-37

The Tragedy of Judaism – the Rejection of Christ 13:27-29

“The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb.” (Acts 13:27-29)

Paul explained why their leaders in Jerusalem rejected and crucified their Messiah. They didn’t recognize Jesus and unjustly condemned Him. Not because they didn’t read the prophets, but because they didn’t understand them, indeed they were unknowingly fulfilling what the prophets predicted.

Woeful Ignorance                   13:27
Wilful Insistence                    13:28
Wicked Intransigence           13:29

The tragedy of Judaism was the rejection of Christ.

The Triumph of Jesus – The Resurrection of Christ 13:30-37

The resurrection of Jesus was the vindication.

Proof of Eyewitness    13:30-31

“But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.” (Acts 13:30-31)

It was an act of God in history verified by eye witnesses.

Notice also Paul speaks of these witnesses as contemporaries. Then he takes them back to the prophets to show this was no accident but the will and purpose of God. This was an act of God in history predicted by king David and the prophet Isaiah.

Predictions of Scripture 13:32-37

Paul cites 3 significant OT references to the Messiah.

Psalm 2:7

“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:    “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay.” (Acts 13:32-34)

Note that it refers to the resurrection of Christ, not to the birth of Christ.

Isaiah 55:3

“As God has said, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’” (Acts 13:34)

This quote refers to the covenant God made with David. God had promised David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah. This was to be an “everlasting covenant” with a throne that would be established forever.  That is why Jesus the Messiah had to be raised from the dead, so the covenant could be fulfilled.

Psalm 16:10

“So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:35-37)

The Jews considered this to be a Messianic Psalm. Clearly the promise did not apply to David who was dead and buried, and long gone. It could only apply to the Messiah, whose body was transformed through the resurrection. Do you see how clearly and compellingly Paul lays out the claims of Christ, the eyewitness testimony and Scriptural predictions? We’ve seen in Paul’s sermon, Preparation: Israel’s Holy Mission. And secondly, Declaration : Israel’s Hideous Mistake

3. Application: Israel’s Historic Moment    13:38-41

This was Israel’s historic moment. They had rejected their Messiah, but He was giving them a second chance. The Lord Jesus Christ was alive for ever more, and they could still accept Him, now was the time. Notice at this point how Paul again changes the use of pronouns to speak directly to them as individuals, since the Lord Jesus must be received personally. 8x in five verses Paul says “you”. He had declared the good news, now all that remained was to make the application personal and challenging.

3.1 The Gospel Welcome  13:38-39

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

In the Gospel two precious promises are made.

The Forgiveness of Sin: Pardon   13:38

To know for sure that all was forgiven. The past can be forgiven. We can be free from a guilty conscience.

Justification Before the Father: Inheritance 13:39

God has done much more than simply wiping the slate clean. Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Jesus Christ. He enables us to share a portion of Christ’s inheritance. The law could never justify, only condemn, a constant reminder of failure. But Jesus forgives, Jesus justifies. That’s really good news. The Gospel welcome.

3.2 The Gospel Warning   13:40-41

“Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.” (Acts 13:40-41)

Paul finishes his sermon with a word of warning taken from another OT prophet, Habakkuk.  In Habakkuk’s day the “unbelievable work” God was doing was raising up the Chaldeans to chasten His people, something so remarkable no one would accept it.  They couldn’t believe that God was using an evil pagan nation to punish His own chosen people. God had used Gentiles to punish Jews. The “wonderful work” in Paul’s day was that God was using Jews to save Gentiles. Many believed in the Gospel as Paul preached. In fact they were so excited they wanted to hear more the next Sabbath. We have seen, there were three parts to Paul’s sermon:

1. Preparation: Israel’s Holy Mission.
2. Declaration : Israel’s Hideous Mistake
3. Application: Israel’s Historic Moment

What were the consequences of Paul’s preaching?

4. Consequences of Paul’s Preaching  13:42-52

4.1 Great Encouragement  13:42-44

“As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” (Acts 13:42-44)

At the end of the service the pair were invited back for another preach. Paul had made a deep impression on the congregation. They wanted to hear more next week, but many couldn’t wait that long. The follow-up study carried on outside the synagogue. Many seem, to have responded to Christ, for Paul tells them to “continue in grace”. This suggests they had come to understand the basis of a right relationship with God. Paul knew that these young Christians would soon face the pressure to return to the well worn but worthless paths of Jewish legalism. Their salvation like ours depends not upon obedience to rules and regulations but on the grace, the free unmerited mercy of God. By the time Paul and Barnabas came back the next Saturday, they could hardly get in the building. The new Christians had brought their friends and relatives. Revival hit Pisidia. The best evangelists are always the youngest Christians. Why were the Apostles so popular?  Luke tells us, the people came to hear God’s word explained. The synagogue rulers were not so sure about this growing popularity. Great encouragement was met by,

4.2 Bitter Opposition    13:45-47

“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:45-47)

The authorities were suspicious of this new revolutionary teaching.  Instead of responding gladly, they looked for flaws in Paul’s theology.

The Cause of the Hostility “Jealousy”

It was envy that moved the crowds to hand Jesus over to Pilate. It was that same envy, that sparked this hostility. Have you ever gone on holiday to another church and made the embarrassing discovery that you’ve sat in someone’s favourite seat? That’s what happened that particular Sabbath. The regulars found all the best seats taken by new people, strangers who’d come just to hear the guest preacher… That’s one reason why some churches will never grow. There is no welcome, no hospitality. The synagogue in Pisidia had never seen such crowds. People didn’t turn out like this for their own visiting speakers, not even at Passover had the collection been so good…. The cause of the hostility, jealousy.

The Character of the Hostility – “Abusiveness”

Unable to refute the truth, they stooped to abusive language. As such they were unknowingly fulfilling the prophecy of Simeon. When he had held the baby Jesus in his arms, he’d predicted, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against.” The cause of the hostility, “Jealousy”. The Character of the Hostility – “Abusiveness”

The Consequences of the Hostility – “Rejection”

“We had to speak the word of God to you first but since you reject it we now turn to the Gentiles”  Paul’s answer to their complaint was simple.  It was because the Jews refused to receive the Gospel light that prevented them from bringing light to the Gentiles. Paul’s sentence is very strong language spoken to people who cherished the hope of eternal life. “since you do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life…” That is plain speaking…. but it was the truth. Peter’s pronouncement in Acts 3:23 is very similar.

“Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.” (Acts 3:23) This was no accident, but the fulfillment of scripture. Paul quotes from Isaiah 49:6. The Lords commission to Israel, fulfilled in the Messiah became Paul’s warrant for turning to the Gentiles.  The gospel had always been good news for the world. If his Jewish hearers refused the privilege and responsibility of taking it, he would do so himself.

His Role     “Light for the Gentiles”
His Mission   “You may bring salvation”
His Parish    “To the ends of the earth”

Paul was willing to go to the ends of the earth to win people to Christ.  How far are you willing to go? What opposition are you willing to face for Jesus? The missionaries might have had to leave their new converts but the Holy Spirit hadn’t. The Jew’s might be able to drive out the servants of God, but they could not drive out the Spirit of God. The centre of action merely moved on another 90 miles or so East to the next main town, Iconium, As we prepare for the next installment in Iconium next week, let me quote to you a summary of this passage from Cambell Morgan,

“Note the effect of the Christian message; it is life unto life, or death unto death. It produces jealousy or joy, blasphemy or belief; the spirit of hell which persecutes, or the spirit of holiness which seeks to save. The preaching of the Cross appeals to the intellect of men and divides them. It stirs the emotional life, producing opposite and conflicting emotions. It storms the will and demands belief or blasphemy… on which side do I stand?”

Lets pray.