Category Archives: Mission

Acts 16:1-40 – Being lead by the Spirit

Context

While Paul and Barnabas worked well together in spreading the gospel to the north-west of Israel, they disputed over working together with Mark (formerly known as John). Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus but Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)
    • 1-5 Paul picks up Timothy
    • 6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke
    • 11-15 Paul meets Lydia
  • 16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer
    • 16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit
    • 19-24 Paul is imprisoned
    • 25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer
    • 35-40 Paul escorted out of jail

1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)

1-5 Paul picks up Timothy

“…a disciple named Timothy…” This young man would become a very close and invaluable partner in the gospel for Paul. He is mentioned in almost all of Paul’s letters (excluding Galatians and Ephesians and Titus), two of which were written directly to him. Timothy was regarded as a son, a brother and a co-worker in the gospel to Paul. His mother was a believing Jew while his Father was a Greek. There is no mention of his father’s faith but his mother and grandmother taught him well from youth about the scriptures (2 Timothy 3). Paul met Timothy while travelling and found a young man who was already growing steadily in the faith and in good regard in his neighbourhood. These are two excellent agendas for life: to grow in love for the Lord and be respected in the community – particularly when the latter flows out of the former. Luke 2:52 says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

“…he circumcised him because of the Jews…” In light of the previous chapter, you may think this is a hypocritical decision. The point though is about being received by the Jewish community so that the gospel can be heard. The circumcision decision was not done for the purpose of religion. Remember 1 Corinthians 9:22 tells us to become all things to all people so that by all possible means (even circumcision) we might save some.

“…as they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles…” Even while Timothy had been circumcised, they intended to continue the encouraging message that life in Christ brings freedom and unity between Jew and Gentile.

6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke

“…kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching…” Who knows how the Spirit did this. The means are not really important (or else we might be told) but when doorways are closed to the disciples, they regarded this as a sign from the Spirit of Jesus (v6 and 7). When some doors are closed, others are opened and one town that received the gospel as a result is Galatia – the church there would receive the Epistle to the Galatians – a book filled with gospel truths and a strong argument against staying with the law now that Christ has come.

“…concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel [in Macedonia].” This conclusion was reached after Paul had a night vision. Some people claim to receive words from the Lord like Paul did here. I don’t wish to dismiss things too quickly. But the practice overall is that we walk by faith in the knowledge of the word of God. This is the norm. To expect anything else as the norm or more common is to regard the books of the bible as average and common stories. In the first century, the gospel is fresh and the mission of God was to take the name of Jesus to the nations (Acts 1:8). Some areas had been restricted in the wisdom of God but others were opened and Paul was being lead by God to go to Macedonia.

“…we got ready at once…” Notice the pronoun ‘we’. For the first time in the book of Acts, it is written in the first person. Introducing Dr Luke to the story. He doesn’t make note of his joining in the mission and he comes in and out of the narrative without further attention (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16).

11-15 Paul meets Lydia

“…we travelled to Philippi…of Macedonia. And we stayed…” Philippi is described as the major city of the area of Macedonia and we know that Paul founds a Christian church here which he will write to later in the New Testament. They stopped here since this is where God had directed them and this is where they planned. This is where the story unfolds and we meet Lydia.

“…to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Interesting that they are further and further away from Jerusalem and the use of Synagogues is not as common. Fewer Jews means less money to build such things. But a river makes for a great meeting place to reflect on the creator. Remember that this is where the Israelite exiles met in Ezekiel – they were by the Kebar River and recall Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

“…The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” A little reminder that it is not Paul’s persuasion but God’s pull to the gospel of grace. Many scholars have read the bible and discussed it thoroughly without seeing clearly that Jesus is Lord. It is with the mind and the Holy Spirit that we hear the good news and respond. Remember what Jesus said to Peter when he finally confessed that Jesus is the Christ, “Blesses are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 16:17)

“…her heart…” This is also a little reminder that the gospel ought to be felt. Tears of repentance, grief over sin, thankfulness for mercy and joy to be free.

“…When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.” Paul invited her whole household to hear and respond to the gospel. She accepted and the household presumably followed her lead. Paul and Silas and Luke and Timothy had no place to stay, but when the gospel found a home in someone’s heart, a home was opened to them. Once they were strangers but now, through faith in Jesus, they are brothers.

16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer

16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit

“…a spirit by which she predicted the future…” Who knows what access the spirit world has to future events? Who even knows what access the Almighty has to it? That’s not to suggest that the future is out of his control or takes him by surprise, but can we ever resolve the coexistence of God’s sovereignty with man’s free will? The spirit was in a slave girl and her owners were profiting from her apparent skill. Paul did not know the future, nor did the Spirit of Jesus reveal it to him (except that he should go to Macedonia), but the Spirit of God will lead Paul to the ears of a jailer. We don’t need to know the future to be sure that God has the future under his control. We walk by faith and obedience.

“…he turned and said to the spirit…” For some bizarre reason, the spirit which turned out to be an annoying spirit, was proclaiming the truth that Paul and co were working for the Most High God and are here to show the way to salvation! At first, this might have amused Paul since it was the truth. But even the truth said over and over with no purpose can be counterproductive. Paul cast out the spirit in the name of Jesus – apparently not a spirit ion the side of Jesus.

19-24 Paul is imprisoned

“…her owners realised that their hopes of making money was gone…” The love of money will take many people to hell. Paul’s message of salvation was, to them, a message of poverty and ruin. And they hated him for ruining their livelihood. Their idol was greed and wealth and wanted nothing to do with Paul’s message.

“…the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas…” Like some of the towns around Judea that rose up against Jesus, the apostle is up against crowd mentality.

“…and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.” So, they were locked up as public nuisances and found themselves with an audience ordered to be with them. God works in mysterious ways. Who could have planned for Paul to find his way to this jailer – but God worked all things out for good. Though the townsfolk meant their actions for evil, God intended it for good. They will still receive their condemnation for rejecting the gospel of life but their actions were used by God to bring the gospel to one who would respond.

25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer

“…praying and singing hymns to God…” The mission has come to a halt – or so it seems. Locked up in a prison cell with only themselves and a guard. Far away from their home church in Antioch where their friends would not know to be praying for their release. But Paul and Silas continued to trust in the Lord. Why not take the time to remind one another of God’s goodness and to praise Him from the heart. While many were safely sleeping in their beds, these missionaries were chained up, perhaps cold, probably uncomfortable, they were awake and praising God. We can’t help associate the earthquake as the intervention of God.

“…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This is the sort of question every Christian longs to be asked. It’s really the most important question. Is God real? Is the bible God’s word? Why does God allow suffering to go on? These are all very good questions too but ought to lead everyone to the first question: what must I do to be saved? This question, of course, is answered with, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Both the question and the answer are loaded with side issues and questions, for sure. But this is the heart of importance. John’s entire gospel is aimed at answering this question. Romans 10:9 explains that “if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The difference between heaven and hell is this one decision: do you believe in the Lord Jesus. Not simply that a guy named Jesus lived – but that he is Lord. He is your Lord. He is the Lord of all. This is the difference between life and death. Perhaps the jailer understood that the Almighty took care of Paul and Silas and also that the prisoners were not desperate to preserve their own freedom. He may have witnessed the power of God over nature as well as the power of the gospel in the lives of these two men. Whatever he perceived, he was struck to ask these two men about salvation.

“…he was filled with joy…” Oh I wish that we could perpetuate that feeling. If only the church – all of us – would perceive the joy that it is to know Jesus. Our faith is one of knowledge of the truth. We can speak with philosophers who wonder and say that we know God. We can speak with scientists who study and say we know who did this. We can speak with the lost and say that we know the solid rock who gives us freedom from sin. We can speak to those burdened by religion and say that we know the mind of God and his invitation to come and find rest. We can speak to those who have sold themselves to money and say that we know the God of hope who has prepared an inheritance for all who turn to Jesus and believe the good news. We can also talk to God, the one whom we know in truth, and we can ask him to fill our hearts with joy – the joy that comes by faith in believing.

35-40 Paul escorted out of jail

“When it was daylight…” Between midnight and dawn, a man had been delivered from darkness to light. An earthquake had taken place and a man’s whole household had been baptised in response to the good news that Jesus is Lord. A man who previously only knew the fear of his Roman authorities, now was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God. He had opened his home to the prisoners and apparently lead them back to their cell before morning. When the morning came, officers of the magistrate may have thought they were bringing good news to Paul and Silas to release them. But that is no news at all compared to the release of the jailer from his bondage to sin and death.

“…No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” The boldness of Paul makes me smile. An earthquake came and opened the doors for him to be free, yet he stayed. The jailer took him home and fed him and yet Paul and Silas returned to their cell before morning. Now they are given permission to leave and yet they want to demand their rights as Roman citizens. It’s quirky of Paul. But it illustrates his co-citizenship of earth and heaven. The gospel that he preaches is ultimately about right and wrong. If you are on the wrong side of Jesus you are in the wrong, so turn to him and be saved. He has been dealt with wrongly as a citizen of Rome and he chooses to make an issue out of this too. Sure, he could have dismissed it and gone on with his mission. But he has an opportunity here to declare that they are in the wrong! According to their rules, they have wronged him and they need to make amends.

“…they went to Lydia’s house…” This had become a base in Philippi for the believers and Paul encouraged them with the news of what had happened to him and Silas just as Peter encouraged the believers in Jerusalem after his rescue from prison by the hand of God. He undoubtedly let them know about the jailer and his family. When he left the believers, they supported him financially in his mission and even sent money to him when he was abroad (Philippians 4:14-16)

Meaning

Finding people and places to preach the gospel is as much a part of following the lead of the Spirit as it is setting an agenda and a plan. The plan will fail without the Spirit of God. But the plan must be to preach where the Spirit opens doors (or locks you in). The gospel itself is a work of the Spirit to open the hearts of the elect to respond. And our message must be directed to Jesus as Lord – this is the good news.

Application

  1. Discuss ways in which you have seen the Spirit of God directing you in your life? How have you been aware of this? What principals must we follow to know whether it is the Spirit of God or not?
  2. Our plans do get changed and it is important to understand the sovereignty of God in all situations. Bad events in life are also used by God for his good purposes. Do you have examples of this in your life? How might you see your current situations (today, this week, a specific function) as an opportunity to spread the gospel and to glorify God?
  3. Would you describe your life as full of joy for knowing God? Would you use the word joy at all to describe your life? Why or why not? Discuss.

Acts 14:1-28 – Lost in translation

Context

The mission of Jesus exploded in Jerusalem and has been spreading abroad. Barnabas and Saul (now called Paul since chapter 13) left Antioch to take the gospel to the Gentiles (13:3). They had sailed to Cyprus, preached in Paphos, parted with John in Perga and proclaimed Jesus the Saviour to the Pisidian Synagogue.. The word of the Lord had been received by some Jews but rejected by many others. It had also been received well by Gentiles and yet not all believed. Always, the message was the word of the Lord and the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Freedom from sin comes to everybody who believes. This word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But Paul and Barnabas left Pisidian Antioch once it was clear that many were rejecting the gospel.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-7 – Division at Iconium
  • 8-10 – A lame man healed in Lystra
  • 11-18 – Mistaken for gods
  • 19-20 – Mistaken for dead
  • 21-28 – Returning to base, strengthening along the way

1-7 – Division at Iconium

“…went as usual into the Jewish synagogue.” This has been commented on in previous posts. The logical place to begin spreading the gospel is in the place where the word of the Lord has already been preached – where the seeds have been sown. Paul and Barnabas continued to use this strategy even after they had seen the gospel rejected in the previous town.

“but the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Logic says, if it’s true then believe it. If it is not true then show it to be either wrong or highly unlikely and let it go! But the human response to God doesn’t work that way. Some will remain in the discussion to speak reasonably and debate, but the majority who do not believe will attack the messenger instead of the message.

“the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.” Interestingly that when the character of the preachers were attacked rather than the message, then the Lord fought for them by enabling them to do signs and wonders – miracles. This is a good little verse to show how miracles serve to confirm the gospel, not be an addition to it nor a necessity in the church.

“The people of the city were divided…a plot afoot…to mistreat them and stone them…” The message was rejected. The miracles were rejected. The disciples were rejected. Such a passionate rejection to the gospel. Interestingly, the world was not lapping up the gospel like modern skeptics might want to believe – like the gospel is for a naive time but now we are much more sophisticated. The gospel has always been met with resistance and rejection. It’s amazing that it has survived so many thousands of years! Obviously because, despite persecution, the apostles “continued to preach the gospel.”

8-10 – A lame man healed in Lystra

In these verses, we have a story very familiar and routine. Jesus healed lame people, Peter did, and now Paul has. The man had been listening to the gospel and Paul saw that his response was to believe – he had faith which Paul recognised. Paul, who had been performing miracles, called for the man to walk for the first time in his life. And he did! As mentioned earlier, miracles like this went with the Apostles who were taking the word of the Lord into the world for the first time. It was a kind of testimony from God that the message is to be believed.

11-18 – Mistaken for gods

“…in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us…” Paul and Barnabas may not have understood what was being said about them until later when they heard of the offerings of sacrifice brought to them. The miracle showed the locals that it was the power of God with them but the mistake was to understand the men as gods instead of messengers of God.

“…telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…” The message of the gospel needed to be retold to these people, focusing on who God is rather than who Jesus is. That is, they need firstly to turn from a total misunderstanding about God to worshipping the one true God. This is a reality that the Jews had been taught from the scriptures. These locals needed to hear the basics: that there is one God who, in the past, has not spoken directly to you. But he has been blessing you with a general blessing by sending rain and crops and a sense of joy. Now, this God wants you to know who he is.

19-20 – Mistaken for dead

“Jews came from Antioch and Iconium…” Paul and Barnabas were not the only Jews on a mission. While they were spreading the gospel, Jews who they had previously met were following to derail their ministry. Both believed they were doing the work of God I suppose. The former explained the truth from the word of God while the latter raised up enemies to take these missionaries down.

“thinking he was dead.” Paul was left for dead. Probably not actually dead. But still a miracle to read that a man who had been physically hit with rocks to the point of death could get up and walk!

21-28 – Returning to base, strengthening along the way

“They preached the gospel in that city…” In Derbe, all we hear is the the gospel was preached and many believed. But the rest of the chapter is committed to the strengthening of the gospel in all the places they had been before. They returned to Antioch where they had set out on this missionary journey but visited Lystra and Iconium on the way. Each time, their plan now was to strengthen those who had believed and encourage them to stand firm through the hardships they will face (v22).

“…appointed elders for them in each church…” The believers would need people appointed to lead them. Paul and Barnabas were not just ‘fly by night’ missionaries. They had formed a strategy for beginning their missions (to go first to the Jews) and they were forming strategies to keep the gospel established in each town they left.

“…reported all that God had done through them…” Once back in Antioch, they encouraged the church there with stories of the work that God was doing in the world.Psalm 4 says, “Fill my heart with joy, when their grain and new wine abound.” The last part of that verse describes the blessings of God on the land. The Psalmist wants to find his joy, not in how God is blessing himself, but in how God is blessing the world that he lives in. When he sees the work of God and how people are receiving life and blessings, that should fill our hearts with joy.

Meaning

The shape of the gospel message will look different, depending on who you speak it to. A person with the understanding that there is one god may be asked, “how are you saved?” while someone who thinks of many gods or many religions as equal may be asked, “who is ultimately in charge of everything?” and someone with an atheistic or agnostic background may be asked, “how do you know right from wrong?” The same gospel can take different approaches depending on your audience.

Application

  1. What are some common objections to the Christian faith? After raising a few, can you think of some clear responses to each?
  2. The gospel must pass through huge walls of cultural conviction. The Jews responded to the gospel by attacking the messengers. The Lycaonians responded to the gospel by treating the messengers as gods! Both groups needed to be convicted of the truth and to respond to that. What cultural obstacles do we face in our area as we try to preach the gospel?
  3. What things have you seen God doing in the past few months that give you joy? What has been an encouragement to you in watching the mission of God unfold around you?

Acts 13:13-52 – A Light for the Gentiles

 

Context

Paul (who was Saul) and Barnabas continue in their mission to take the gospel abroad. They had been sent by the church in Antioch (already a Gentile area), having been called by God, to go and preach the word of God and make disciples. They were successful on the island of Paphos to convert the Roman Procunsul to believe the good news. Their tactic has been to find local Jewish synagogues first before presenting the news to the greater community.

Observation

Structure

  • 13-15 Paul is invited to speak in a Pisidian Antioch synagogue
  • 16-25 Paul’s address on the history of Israel
    • 16-20 Exodus to the Promised Land
    • 20-22 The Judges to David
    • 23-25 David to Jesus through John
  • 26-41 Paul’s address continues to show Jesus as Messiah
    • 26-31 Jesus was rejected in Jerusalem but God raised him from the dead
    • 32-37 How the prophets spoke about Jesus
    • 38-41 Take care to receive Jesus
  • 42-44 Paul and Barnabas invited back
  • 44-52 The Split reaction to the message

13-15 Paul is invited to speak in a Pisidian Antioch synagogue

“…where John left them…” Remember that this is John who is called Mark (Acts 12:12). A significant little secondary character in the New Testament as he pops up in the story of Acts and later in the Epistles – he may have even appeared in the gospel of Mark (Mark 14:52). His departing in this verse is later viewed as a kind of untrustworthiness from Paul  (Acts 15:37-38).

“On the Sabbath, they entered the synagogue and sat down.” This was Paul’s approach to taking the gospel into the world: start with where God has planted a seed – the Jewish community. Although Paul and Barnabas relied on the Spirit and God’s sovereignty, they also had a strategy of moving forward. They didn’t just walk out the door and see what happens, they proceeded in a planned fashion.

“the Law and the Prophets” This is a Jewish way of describing the Old Testament since the parts were made up of the Law being the first five books and the prophets, evertyhing else. (Matt 7:12; 22:40; Lk 16:16; Rom 3:21 – also Lk 16:29, 31; 24:44)

“..a word of exhortation…” Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak to the people. Their invitation was about taking the word of God and expounding it, applying it, explaining it. They were being asked to encourage the brothers from the scriptures. This is how we apply preaching today – taking a passage of scripture and expounding it to those present to provide encouragement and application.

16-25 Paul’s address on the history of Israel

16-20 Exodus to the Promised Land

“Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God…” Being in the synagogue, he was clearly addressing people who feared the God of the Jews. He doesn’t distinguish between two religions here but between national and non-national Jews. It must be remembered that God made Israel a light to the nations and predicted that people from all nations would come to God through Israel – they were a type of mediator for all the nations. The book of Jonah teaches us that God had other nations in mind to repent and worship him. Daniel and Isaiah are two other clear books on the subject but the whole bible speaks of God having a concern for the whole world – but he would redeem the world through the Jews.

“All this took about 450 years.” Paul extracted a few facts from the story of Genesis to Joshua, covering hundreds of years in a single sentence. What’s important here is that Paul is able to read the entire Pentateuch and Joshua and see that the whole thing is telling a story – it’s a story of God choosing to treat one nation as his. Paul is doing what we have labelled today as “Biblical Theology” – being able to see the overarching story which holds all of the bible together. This is not a modern way of reading the scriptures but it is a Christian way of doing it. If you asked a Jew before Jesus (say David or Moses or Daniel) how do you love God, they would answer, “by obeying the Law.” If you ask Paul how do you love God, he might answer, “by knowing him and worshipping him in Spirit and in truth.” Paul has begun his sermon on what the Bible has to say about Promise and Fulfillment. Paul can see Jesus in the Old Testament story.

  • “God…chose our ancestors.” See Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8.
  • “made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt” The story skips all of the details of Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. They slow the story down to confuse the point.
  • “with might power he led them out of that country.” Names like Moses are not significant. God is the one acting in this story and Moses shall not take centre stage.
  • “he endured their conduct.” In a quick phrase, Paul has included the fact that the people were not great or worth treating as special – they were something which God endured.
  • “giving their land to his people.” the first stage of the story closes with the receiving of land as a gift.

20-22 The Judges to David

“Then the people asked for a king.” This phase of the Biblical story takes us from Joshua to David. The book of Judges was a time when apparently nobody was in charge of Israel. On the one hand, this is a great thing because everybody is dependant on God to lead them. But the reality of sin means that everybody did what was right in their own eyes. Although the people wanted a king, God would make sure that they received a king who was good for them – one after his own heart (this phrase is ambiguous and can mean that David loved God but it can also mean that God loved David – the ambiguity is best not to be resolved and just enjoy the fact that when someone is a God seeker, they are also one who God has sought). This period of Judges to David was also about 300 years.

23-25 David to Jesus through John

“John preached repentance and baptism…” When John was preparing the way for the Saviour that God had brought, he did that by calling Israel to repent and commit their lives to God. The baptism that he gave was in the Jordan river which was a kind of reenactment of the crossing into the promised land. The point is that John was calling people to turn their lives back to God.

“…there is one coming after me…” Paul lands the story briefly with John, a notable and memorable figure in their modern history whose ministry was to point people to Jesus, the one coming after him. The whole story of Genesis to Malachi has been the story of one coming who is worthy to be found. Paul takes the second half of his exhortation to prove that Jesus is the one, just as the scriptures affirm.

Note that the first book of the New Testament begins with a list of names taking us through a similar storyline that Paul used. Matthew Chapter one contains the ancestors of Jesus divided in similarly to Paul’s story.

26-41 Paul’s address continues to show Jesus as Messiah

26-31 Jesus was rejected in Jerusalem but God raised him from the dead

“…this message of salvation…” This is how Paul views the entire Old Testament and the promises to Abraham and his children – a message of salvation! Jesus is the point of that salvation. But when Jesus came, he was not recognised by his own people – the children of the promise. John’s gospel opens with this kind of language.

“…yet…they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.” Paul isn’t referring to a particular verse of scripture which is read every Sabbath but to the Law and the Prophets which all speak of the Messiah (Lk 24:44). Yet, in rejecting the Christ, they did exactly as God had “predicted”.

“…they asked Pilate to have him executed….God raised him from the dead…” Paul’s sermon follows a very similar structure to Peter’s sermons in early Acts and to Stephen’s sermon in Act 7. Jesus is the fulfillment to God’s promises, he was rejected by his people but raised by God and seen by many. Paul recites a short, memorable structure in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 which seems to have been a type of creed taught among Christians. It states the facts that Jesus died, was buried and rose on the third day, all in fulfillment of Scripture and he appeared for many to see.

32-37 How the prophets spoke about Jesus

Paul now takes a few quotes from the Psalms to show that there is a description weeved throughout the scriptures of someone who is God’s son, who will receive the promises given to David (see 2 Sam 7) and who will not see decay. Jesus fulfills these promises.

38-41 Take care to receive Jesus

Paul ends his sermon with two possible outcomes: 1) you believe that Jesus is the promised one and you will receive forgiveness of sins which the law of Moses cannot give; 2) scoff at the news and reject the one who God has sent. The choice is over to them now.

The ramifications of the first outcome are amazing. One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is that Paul no longer distinguishes between Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. He simply says that “everyone who believes is set free from every sin.”

42-44 Paul and Barnabas invited back

“…the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.” This is a successful outcome for the missionaries. They have opened up the minds of their hearers to the message of Jesus and have been given a second chance to speak more.

“…many…followed Paul and Barnabas, who…urged them to continue in the grace of God.” A second outcome was that some people (many) stayed with the missionaries, talking more, not waiting another week to hear further. These followers were urged to continue in the grace of God. This is cool! They were not being told to abandon Judaism but to continue in the grace of God – I take it by receiving the grace through Jesus! Just as the Bible is the outflowing story of the grace of God which leads its hearers to Jesus, the faith of the Jew is to continue in the scriptures, studying the grace of God which is Jesus.

“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Now this is a great outcome of the first sermon – that even more people come. Folk had been talking all week about this news and now, not just the converts to Judaism but other Gentiles in the city came to hear how salvation has come to everybody who believes in Jesus. And they have come to hear what God has to say. They want Paul to talk to them about the word of the Lord.

Wouldn’t it be great to pray for an impact in church like this one?!

45-52 The Split reaction to the message

“…the Jews…were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying.” What a terrible sin it is for people to love themselves more than they love God. How were these Jews being a light for the Gentiles? They were not! Sure, they included some God-fearing Gentiles in their mix but that is ok, since they are still Gentiles – not truly Jews. Power and the feeling of being special rated higher for them than truth. Didn’t they hear that they were not God’s people because they were special? To contradict what Paul was saying could mean that they disagreed with this biblical knowledge or that they disagreed with his testimony about Jesus. But when you are not for Jesus, you are against him.

“We had to speak the word of God to you first.” Well, God had chosen the descendants of Abraham and Jesus said that the gospel must go out, first to the Jew and then to the Gentiles. Paul uses this same sequence in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Paul does not believe that all of the descendants of Abraham will be saved but that all of Israel must hear the gospel and have the opportunity to believe. If they do not believe, they will face the same condemnation – no worse – than the Gentiles.

“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” See Isaiah 49:6. This is an Old Testament verse. Several hundred years before Jesus came, God had made Israel the spokespeople, the watchmen, the lighthouse for the whole world – that everybody will come to God for salvation!

“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord…” The Gentiles heard from the Jewish scriptures that salvation is for the whole world – that salvation was for them – that they are not the dregs but much loved by God and welcome into his kingdom! They heard that the bible spoke about them! That God loves them! The Jews, by and large, heard that God was for them and them alone. They failed at their lighthouse ministry.

“But the Jewish leaders…” Jealousy and hate flows out of anyone who does not call on the name of the Lord.

“So they shook the dust off…and…were filled with joy…” The mindset of the disciples was that all who follow Jesus will be persecuted. The world will hate them because it hated Jesus first (Jn 15:18). They had said what they needed to say among the Jews and the word of God had successfully achieved its purpose – it saved some and condemned others. Our place in the mission is not to argue everybody into the Kingdom of God. We preach the word of the Lord and let the Spirit call “all who were appointed for eternal life” to believe.

“The word of the Lord”. It’s worth pausing to think about this little phrase. It’s a phrase that, on face value, means “the words that the Lord has spoken,” or “the message from the Lord”. Gen 15:1 “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision…” It’s a phrase occurring 237 times in the whole bible. Fifty-seven of those times occur in the book of Ezekiel alone! It is about the message that God wants us to hear. A direct revelation from God – the LORD who is Yahweh. In the New Testament, the phrase occurs 10 times and nine of those are in the book of Acts. The Old Testament came to be through the prophets writing down the words of God and combining them with the narrative which explains and illumines them. The narrative, explains Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, is also God’s word.

In Acts 8:25, Peter “proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus…preaching the gospel.” What was once about direct revelation from God to a prophet, is now being used to sum up the scriptures. Peter expresses that it’s the word of God which is preached when the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed (1 Peter 1:23-25). We do not abandon any of the scriptures when we preach Jesus. We embrace them and continue to teach it because they speak of Jesus as Lord.

Meaning

Jesus Christ is God’s gift of salvation to all the earth. The whole of the bible speaks of him fulfilling the promises of God. He is the saviour to everybody who believes and therefore, the scriptures are for everybody to hear and adore.

2 Timothy 3:15 “…you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Application

  1. Knowing the word of the Lord. Paul’s understanding of the bible meant that he could see how everything is connected to Jesus. It didn’t matter whether he was preaching to Jews or Gentiles, he used the word of the Lord to show how it is written for all to put their trust in Jesus. Biblical Theology is a modern term used to describe this approach to reading the bible. Being able to read the bible the way Paul did helps us to reach better understanding on everything about this world and to grow in our maturity in Jesus. Reading the Old Testament as Law and ancient history is only a shallow reading. If you would like to grow in your knowledge of God, learn to read the bible as a whole. The “God’s Big Picture Plus” course is aimed to do this. As is the Moore College Distance Learning subject called “Introduction to the Bible.”
  2. Being a light in the world. Although God chose Abraham’s descendants to receive his blessings, they were intended to be a light to the world. This same principle applies to Christians. We are saved and are called to proclaim the word of the Lord to the world (2 Peter 1:9-10; Matt 28:19-20). We live each day because God is holding back his wrath so that more people may hear and respond to the gospel (Romans 2:4).
  3. Loving the gospel regardless of the response to it. Knowing when to speak and when to walk away is a tough thing. Paul’s strategy was to arrive at a new place and seek a Jewish community to speak to. From there, opportunity arose to speak broader than that. His tactic was not to speak only to those who he knew would respond well. History assured him that the Jews could easily reject him and persecute him. When and where to speak are strategic decisions but whether to say something or nothing is really not that hard. Whenever there is opportunity to say something, say it. Let the Spirit call in the elect and learn to rejoice no matter what the outcome. The evangelist, John Chapman, used to ask himself when he returned home from preaching, “Did I preach Jesus? Was I clear? Did I call people to respond? Then shut up and go to bed.”