A Greasy Message

A Pastor’s Commentary

Studies in ActsLesson 31

“A Greasy Trip”

Acts 17:1-15

 

Have you ever had one of those days when you do so many things that at the end of the day when you sit back and think about it you think “how did I get here from where I started?” Maybe it was a day of Christmas shopping (or some other kind of shopping) or a list long list of school assignments, or whatever.

 

Well the Apostle Paul had one of those days in the course of his second missionary journey as he moved from town to town ministering to churches that he had founded on his first journey. That is the way the 17th chapter of Acts is. It consists of four different activities and relationships, each of which can teach lessons about ministry and the Christian life in general.

 

Actually, there are four major “happenings” in the chapter, which form the outline. Dr. S. Lewis Johnson used to enjoy pointing out that all of these things happened as Paul traveled through the area that is now known as Greece. So he enjoyed referring to it as a “greasy” trip.

 

The four segments in his travel can be outlined in this way, using the King James Version terminology.

 

In verses 1 through 4 we read about Paul’s Manner

 

Then in verses 5 through 9 we read about Jason’s Ministry

 

Then in verses 10 through 13 it is the Bereans’ Mentality

 

So let’s begin our study by thinking about “Paul’s Manner” in verses 1 through 4

 

We take that terminology from the statement in verse 2 and says that Paul, “as his manner was,” went in to the synagogue” he had a “custom,” or a “method” that he followed when he was preaching in a new area. And the first thing we see about that method is that it had a priority. And that priority is described in verse 1:

 

Now when they had through Amphipolis and Apolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue.

 

Notice that they passed through two other towns before they came to Thessalonica and stopped. The implication seems to be that they stopped there because as the last line says, “there was a synagogue of the Jews there.” Even though Paul eventually became known as the “Apostle to the gentiles” his priority was to preach to the Jews first. Another aspect of Paul’s method is in the first part of verse 2. Look at the persistence he demonstrated.

 

Then Paul, his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the scriptures.

 

Even though it was a part of a “method” for his ministry, Paul didn’t just “whip through” it – he was persistent, evidently staying until he thought they fully understood the subject. On this basis he could have been in Thessalonica as little as 15 days or as long as 27 days. Paul knew something that seems to be widely overlooked in evangelistic circles today and that is that it usually takes some consistent time with people to be able to bring them to Christ.

 

Closely related to his persistence is something that we find in verse 3. Look at the primary emphasis he made in his presentation:

 

Explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying “this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

 

The problem that the Jews always had with Jesus of Nazareth was that he was so badly treated in his life on earth, rather than being exalted as “king of the Jews.” And so Paul always dealt with these facts first – showing them that it had to be that way (notice the wording of verse 3 again “that Christ had to suffer and rise again . . .”)  

 

The last part of verse 2 really goes with this section – notice that it says that he “reasoned with them from the scriptures.” (Remember that the scriptures at that time consisted of the Old Testament only. This demonstrates that it is possible to lead someone to Christ using only part of the scriptures. Jesus did this same thing with the two on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Verse 27 of that passage says that beginning with Moses and all the prophets He explained to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.

 

 It would be a good Bible Study project to make a study of finding some of those Old Testament references that you can use in that way, especially if you ever hope to witness to a Jewish person.

 

But notice in verse 3 that it says that Paul “explained” and “demonstrated” the truth about Christ. Evangelism is not a matter of beating people over the head with Bible verses or scaring them with verses about hellfire. True evangelism is a careful, logical, explanation” and “demonstration” from the scriptures about the truth of Jesus Christ. Well, after all of that well reasoned and loving approach, verse 4 tells us the product that resulted:

 

And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

 

Some Jews believed, but interestingly enough “a great multitude” of Gentiles were saved also. (including a few female socialites) And there is a reason for that too. And there is a lesson in that too: Paul’s priority in using the approach that he did was to convince Jews – but more gentiles than Jews were saved.  And the lesson to learn from that is that the gospel is really the same for everybody. We may approach it from one angle with one person and another angle with another, but the bottom line is that, properly presented, the gospel will reach people no matter what their background is. Another “product” of Paul’s brief ministry there was that he later wrote two letters back to them which later became a valuable part of the New Testament.

 

Well, in verses 5 through 9 the scene changes. In those verses, we find the story of jason’s ministry. The source of his ministry is in verse 5

 

But the Jews who were not persuaded becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the market place and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

 

The basic source of this whole mess was the sin of envy. The Jewish leaders simply could not stand to see the success of the gospel! Apparently they thought that Paul and his group were staying at the home of Jason, so they got a mob together and stormed his house. We don’t know anything about  Jason – or even whether Paul and the others were staying him. But this situation gave him an unusual ministry. The substance of the ministry is in verses 6 through 9

 

It began with his capture is in verse 6a

 

But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city . . . . .” If they couldn’t have Paul they would settle for Jason and some other unknown Christians. And this thrust Jason right into the forefront of the battle!

 

And then the Jews made their complaint in verses 6b and 7

 

“. . . . crying out, “These who have turned the world upside have come here too.(7) Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.”

 

Notice the irony here – Paul and the others as they preached the gospel were actually “turning the world right side up.” But to those who wouldn’t accept the gospel, it must have seemed like it was being turned upside down.

 

The whole concept of human government is laid out clearly for us in Ephesians 6:12

 

We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand

 

Remember, we were talking about Jason’s ministry. And we have seen his capture and the complaint against him. But in verses 8 and 9 we see the cost that Jason faced:

 

And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things (9) So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

 

This decision shows the lack of backbone that the leaders had – they found the Christians guilty without them having their day in court. But the bigger issue is in these verses what is brought out in verse 9. Jason and these unnamed believers had to post some kind of bond. But the result was that Paul and the other leaders were let go.

 

Now at this point you may be thinking “now wait a minute” You said these verses were going to talk about Jason’s ministry, but here we are at the end of the section and Jason hasn’t said a word.” And that is exactly the lesson of these verses: There are other kinds of ministries than preaching sermons or Sunday school classes. By posting this bond and allowing Paul to go free, these men had a share in every person Paul led to Christ from that day forward. And in that sense, they form a picture of every person who contributes financially or in some other material way to a ministry that someone else performs!

 

Finally, (for this study at least) we see the Bereans’ Mentality in verses 10 through 14 In verse 10 we see the approach of the missionaries to the Bereans.

 

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

 

Notice how they begin their ministry in this new town: in “a synagogue of the Jews”! What’s the matter with these guys! Hadn’t they learned anything from experience in Thessalonica? Wasn’t this exactly how they got in trouble there? But you see, it wasn’t a matter of learning a lesson to avoid trouble, it was a matter of using a method that God had lead them to use – no matter what the cost.  And in this case it was well worth the trouble. Because in verse 11 we see the attitude of the Bereans:

 

These were more fair minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

 

Notice that the Bereans were “fair minded.” But notice also what the definition of being “fair minded” is: “searching the scriptures.” In fact, the King James Version translates this word “noble.” In other words, God is saying in these verses that it is a noble thing do! This is always the key to successful ministry: to use the Word of God. We don’t know whether or not Paul told them to search the scriptures in this particular case but in any case, a ministry will be more fruitful when it encourages and makes it as easy as possible for the hearers to “search the scriptures. In my own ministry I have made it a regular practice for several years to use computer software to project the scriptures that we are talking about on a screen behind me. And the failure to use such “helps” is where the cults might get a foothold – and then a stranglehold.

 

Well, as a result of the Bereans’ attitude they had a great advantage as recorded in verse 12

 

Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

 

Here is a great harvest! The “many of them” is a reference to the Jews – Paul’s first goal. But in addition to that many others believed also. And it is directly tied in the access and acceptance of the word of God. And it is directly tied in with the access and acceptance of the word of God. What an important for those in ministry to understand! This seems like a good place to end the story. But God doesn’t end it there – because Satan doesn’t. Verse 13 records that in spite of “their advantage” they also had some antagonists

 

But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

 

Remember way back at the beginning we saw that the Jews were motivated by envy? These verses show how potent “mental attitude sins” can be: not satisfied to ruin the work of Christ in their own area, these jealous Jews move on into other people’s territories as well! But there a lesson in that too: Satan is never disheartened by a great victory such as the one at Berea; it only stirs him up all the more!

 

We have certainly seen some “twists and turns” and have come a long way since the beginning of the chapter, haven’t we? But no matter what the new developments God has been faithful. And we are even going to see in the last section of the chapter that He is going to use “antagonists” from this first part of the chapter to set Paul up for what was probably one of the greatest accomplishments his entire ministry!

 

 

 

 

Is the Door Open?

Studies in Acts

Lesson 30: “A New Dimension in Ministry”

Acts 16:11-40

 

If there is one thing we who live out here in West Texas know for certain it is that you cannot control the weather – even in the course of one day. How many times have we started a day with warmth and sunshine and before noon have it cloudy and cold? Or vice versa? And of course the wind is always a “wild card” in the weather package. That must have been the way Paul and his fellow missionaries felt as they began their second missionary journey in the last part of chapter 16. In our last study we saw that things started out well enough – everything looked “bright and sunshiny” at first. In fact, in those early stages of the trip God provided two new missionaries to work with Paul – Timothy and Luke. But before long they had a “cold wind” blowing in their faces as door after door of ministry closed to them in the first part of chapter 16. And finally they all agreed in verse 10 that God wanted them to go into Europe. As we come to verse 11 and today’s passage it seems like the weather has changed again. Look at verse 11.

 

Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis.

 

The next verses show us that God has a new dimension in store for their team – from several standpoints. First   from the standpoint of movement. Look at verse 11. All sailors know that the phrase “ran a straight course” is a nautical term for “sailing into the wind” But not only that, the course of their ministry is also about to change. And not only that, but the course of their ministry is going to go more smoothly, too, at least for a while.

 

The third section of the chapter, verses 11 through 40, shows the ministry taking on a new dimension. And the invitation that leads into that new dimension is in verses 11 through 15. And the setting for the invitation is found in verses 11 through 13. First, the setting from the standpoint of the map is given in verses 11 and 12:

 

Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace and the next day came to Neapolis, (12) And from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city in that part of Macedonia, a colony.

 

So Luke tells us that their first steps onto European soil were at Neapolis. And this new dimension is going to involve a lot of change from the standpoint of movement, both in ministry and in travel. Luke tells us in verse 11 that their first steps onto European soil were at city of Neapolis Then they apparently walked the ten miles to Philippi. Paul and his friends had no doubt heard of Philippi; it was a well known historical place and Luke and Paul were both highly educated men. Legend had it that the townspeople had earned Roman citizenship by helping Caesar Augustus defeat his enemies in 42 B.C. Because it was strategically located and on a large hill he had also made it a “colony,” which meant that it had all of the privileges of Rome and its police force and an army outpost, even though it was hundreds of miles away. Largely because of that Roman influence it was a lusty, brawling town with a “carnival” atmosphere.

 

It was into this atmosphere that Paul and his companions walked that day – the first Christians anyone in this part of the world had ever seen. Where would they begin? What would they do with this opportunity?

Well, we’ve talked about the setting from the standpoint of the map, but verse 13 gives us their setting in terms of ministry.

 

And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

 

Now this is an interesting beginning for Paul. Up to this point he had always opened his ministry in a new town by going to the local synagogue. (and chapter 17 is going to show him still doing it)

 

But here he begins by going to a little group of women outside of town! Why would he do that ? Well, there is a clue in the middle of the verse. Look at the phrase “where prayer was customarily made.”

 

Jewish law said that if there were ten males in a community a synagogue would be built, but if there were not that many, they were to establish “a place of prayer.”So actually Paul is following his usual procedure – to the extent that he could.

 

So that is “the setting for the invitation” which they received. But in verses 14 and 15 we find the actual “sending of the invitation.”

 

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. she was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. (15) And when she and her household were baptized she begged us saying “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay” So she persuaded us.

 

Back at Troas Paul had seen a Macedonian man beckoning him to come over into Europe. But actually, the first European to believe the gospel would be a woman! And because God opened her heart and the hearts of her family to the gospel, Paul and his group now had a base of operations. And from this we can learn an important point of ministry: pursuing ministry takes wisdom and flexibility. Paul could have set his heart on finding that man from Macedonia, refusing to speak to a woman (both because of his ingrained religious principles and what the man may have looked like) Instead he wisely altered his methods (though never his message) This flexibility, combined with sensitivity to the Holy Spirit are a necessity in wise leadership. Christ’s message never changes, but we must always mold our methods to whatever opportunity opens up to us.

 

Now remember that we’re talking about this new dimension that Paul is getting into. And we have seen the invitation to the new dimension. But in verses 16 through 34 we find the involvement in it. It begins with confrontation in verses 16 through 18

 

Now it happened as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortunetelling (17) This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God who proclaim to us the way of salvation (18) And she did this for many days.

 

Here the winds begin to shift again. First Paul and company are “confronted” with the problem of a demon possessed girl. Through the power of a demon she was able to foretell the future and tell people’s fortunes. This demonstrates that many times fortune telling is not a fraud – sometimes it is satanically empowered. And of course, demons can do other things that humans take as “magic” or even “illusion” Some wicked men had taken advantage of this particular girl and were making use of her abilities for themselves. But in these verses things begin to unravel for them. – they would have never expected her to start following Paul around and talking about Jesus! (Satan has a sense of humor too!) The second part of the “confrontation” in these verses is Paul confronting the demon in verse 18:

 

And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ come out of her. And he came out that very hour.

 

Why would Paul be bothered with the kind of thing this demon was doing anyway?  Isn’t it good for people to hear that he and his party were servants of God proclaiming salvation? But again, the Greek text is helpful here. It reveals that what she was actually was “they are proclaiming a way of salvation.” So in effect what was is saying was “we have a way of salvation, they have a way of salvation – let’s join forces. “And notice that “she did this for many days.” In verse 18a. And finally, Paul knew it was time to put a stop to it. Notice the specific steps Paul followed in casting out this demon. He wasn’t fearful or tentative; he spoke directly to the demon with complete authority. Second, he spoke directly to the demon, not the girl. He commanded the demon to come out of her; he didn’t ask. He spoke in the name of Jesus, not his own,

 

This episode brings us to a second principle in ministry: In every major advancement is a corresponding resistance.  For every step forward the devil will meet you half way. For every new strategy you implement, he will mount a corresponding counterattack. But we have the upper hand in these confrontations – if we face him as Paul did, in the power and the name of Jesus Christ – I John 4:4 says

 

Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

 

So the first involvement in the ministry was in the area of confrontation. But that led to another area of ministry, believe it or not, in verses 19 through 24. And that was confinement. The cause of the confinement is in verses 19 through 21

 

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities (20) And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; (21) “and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans to receive or observe.

 

What hypocrites these guys were! They spoke of “Customs that are not lawful for us to receive or observe” while allowing the soul of a little girl to be ravaged by the forces of hell. And all they really cared about was their income in the first place. And notice how subtle they were: “these men being Jews exceedingly trouble our city.” Notice, too, the propaganda: These men were not “troubling” the city, neither were they “teaching unlawful customs. They were merely calmly speaking the truth. The only reason they were being persecuted was because the had interfered with these con men’s income! Be that as it may, the commencement of the confinement is in verses 22 through 24

 

Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded to be beaten with rods (23) And when they had laid many stripes on them they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely (24) and having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

 

The wind has changed directions again and is blowing right in their faces! But their imprisonment leads to the completion of their ministry in this new dimension of ministry. Look at verses 25  and 26 and the first part of that setting is praise in verse 25

 

And at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

 

The second part of the setting is the power of God in verse 26:

 

Suddenly here was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.

 

Now in that setting comes a frantic search for the prisoners in verses 27 through 29

 

And the keeper of the prison, awakening from sleep and seeing the prison doors supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself (28) But Paul called with a loud voice saying “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” (29

Is the Door Open?

Studies in Acts

Lesson 29: Is the door Open?

Acts 16:1-10

 

Have you ever had one of those days when maybe things start off well, but then before the day is over it all comes apart and the day winds up being a disaster? If you have had a day like that, you can understand something about the way Paul and his companions must have felt as we come to chapter 16. This chapter gives the details of the beginnings of the second missionary journey which Paul took. The plans for the trip are actually given in the last verses of chapter 15, which we discussed in our last lesson – and they made plenty of sense: He could return and visit and strengthen converts he had made on the first journey, and in addition he could also take the newly developed message of the details of Gentile salvation from the Jerusalem council (described in chapter 15:6 through 29). He had the blessing and support of the church at Antioch and had found an enthusiastic new traveling partner (after his split with Barnabas). But although it all started so promisingly, things didn’t continue that smoothly. Let’s look at the chapter and see why – and what came from it. Let’s think first about an overview of the chapter.

 

The first thing we will see is the choosing of a new disciple in verses 1 through 5.

 

Then we will see that the ministry takes a new direction in verses 6 through 10 And finally, in verses 8 through 11 we will see a whole new dimension of ministry . So, let’s look at the new disciple who is described verses 1 through 5. First, his circumstances are described in verses 1 and 2

 

Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain Jewish disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek (2) He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

 

Verse 1 says that they started the trip going by land rather than by sea as they had in the first journey going first to Derbe and then to Lystra and Iconium, and it was here that Paul meets his new disciple. This was familiar territory to Paul – it was here that he had been stoned and left for dead, then miraculously healed in chapter 14. Even though the scripture doesn’t specifically so, Timothy may have seen (or at least heard about) that incident and been strengthened by it. So that was the first “circumstance” that was unique about Timothy. But then in verse 1b we read about a second one: He was from a “mixed marriage” – his mother was Jewish, but his father was Greek. Notice that verse one says that his mother was “a Jewish woman who believed. We don’t know don’t know how long she had been saved, but that may explain why she felt the freedom to marry a Gentile, and why she had not circumscribed her son, another of Timothy’s “circumstances.” Another of Timothy’s “circumstances” is given in verse 2: He had a good reputation among the Christians in that area.

 

Paul wanted to have him go with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

 

Here is one of the most interesting situations in the early days of the New Testament. Was Paul being hypocritical to have Timothy circumscribed? After all, hadn’t they just settled this question in chapter 15 at the Jerusalem Council? Wasn’t it the very issue of circumcision that had brought up that whole discussion in the first place? Of course, all of that is true. But there are several things to consider. First of all, Paul had been in the middle of the discussions in Jerusalem. He understood both the “letter” and the “spirit” of those decisions. Second, before all of that came up Paul had been clearly preaching that salvation is by faith plus nothing. So, this couldn’t have had anything to do with that. The best probable answer is that because Timothy was at least partly Jewish, he didn’t have to give Satan any “foothold” for criticism as they went out to preach the gospel to Jews. Verse 3 says it was “because of the Jews who were in the region.” So that is the answer that fits best. And Paul would later formalize this attitude in a statement to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 9:22, when he said “I have become all things to all men that by all means I might save some.” This didn’t mean that he compromised his principles or the gospel, but that, as illustrated here, he did whatever he could to keep out anything that might confuse the issue of the gospel.

 

Now we have seen “the circumstances” out of which this new disciple came, and his circumcision, so in verses 4 and 5 we see his contribution to the ministry

 

And as they went through the cities they delivered to them decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. (5) So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in numbers daily.

 

Of course, Timothy wasn’t the only one who brought this about, but the place where this verse comes in the context shows that God gave him credit for having a part in it. Isn’t it wonderful that the most inexperienced believer is counted by God as important as veteran missionaries? And that is still true in our work for the Lord today!

 

Things are going well with “the new disciple,” and the group as a whole. But as we come to verses 6 through 10 we see things going in a new direction.

 

First, in verses 6 and 7 they find a sudden and frustrating inability to minister in several places

 

(6) Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. (7) After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

 

No doubt because things were going so well Paul and Silas and the others just assumed that they could continue. But all of a sudden. Things come to a standstill. There is a fascinating statement in Revelation 3:7&8 along this line:

 

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens:”(8) I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept my word. And have not denied my name.”

 

We talk a lot about God “opening doors, don’t we? And we rejoice when He does. But these verses say that God just as certainly closes doors sometimes! And that is exactly what happened to Paul and his party in Acts 16:

 

Verse 1 specifically says that “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” And verse 7 says that “the Spirit “did not permit them” to go into Bithynia. Why would God do such a thing? Weren’t there unsaved people in those areas?  Certainly, there were! But either it was not God’s will for them to be reached at that time or it was not God’s will for them to be reached by Paul. The key issue here is the sovereignty of God. God was responsible for those people and God was in control of Paul’s efforts to reach them. And the same thing is true in our lives. In His sovereignty, sometimes He closes doors that we cannot understand. It may be a seemingly effective ministry, a meaningful relationship, loss of health or money or job – all kinds of things. And at times like that its easy to become frustrated and discouraged. But we always need to remember that God never does those things haphazardly – He always has a wider purpose – as is illustrated in the next verses: in the midst of that “frustrating inability to minister,” Paul receives a fascinating invitation in verses 8 through 10 First he has a vision in verses 8 and 9.

 

So passing by Mysia they came down to Troas (9)And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying “come over to Macedonia and help us.”

 

To understand the significance of this point you have to know something about the geography of this area. When they came to Troas they came to the coast of Asia. There was nowhere else to go unless they went across the Aegean Sea and into Greece and Southern Europe – and they had never intended to go that far. But now it became clear that this trip was going to be much bigger than they had thought. God was directing them into a whole new area of ministry! Think about this: If Paul had gotten discouraged and gone back to Antioch, or just dropped the whole project, they would have missed this whole opportunity. As a result of this “vision”, Paul and his group made the decision to go on into the new area. Look at verse 10

 

Now after we had seen the vision immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

 

There is an interesting and important little change in this verse that is easily overlooked: notice the word “we” in the first line. This an indication that Luke, the writer of the book of Acts joined them at this point. Probably Luke was a citizen of Troas, since that is where he joined the grouppossibly as Paul’s personal physician, but an evangelist in his own right. Think what a blessing Paul, and the whole body of Christ would have missed in having Luke’s company if he had insisted on his original plan of ministering in Asia! Isn’t it interesting how God so often “kills more that one bird with one stone?”

 

There are three “we” sections in Acts in which Luke evidently accompanied Paul – 16:10 through 17; 20:5 through 18; and 27:1 through 28:16. And Luke fit in well with the rest of the team, because he had the same vision – note 10b – concluding that God had called us to minister to them.

 

As we wrap up this section of the book of Acts, think about this: are you searching God’s call and finding nothing but closed doors? Like Paul, maybe you are groping along in a dry, barren “Asia” of your life. Whether your closed doors are because of sickness, failure, or frustrating circumstances, the story of this passage offers two principles that may be of help to you. First, before God can turn us, He has to slow us down, or even stop us. There are times when we drive right through life with the cruise control on. But sometimes God has a different direction He wants us to go, so He places potholes or obstacles in the highway to slow us down or even stop us. Then He can turn us in the direction He wants us to go. In this sense, you see, closed doors may not be the end, but the beginning of God’s new plan for us. And that leads to the second principle: often “when a good door closes a better one opens.” In a time of disappointment and dryness it is easy to forget a very simple yet basic principle: God only has our ultimate good in mind. Psalm 84:11: No good thing will He will withhold from those who walk uprightly.

 

And Jesus said in Matthew 7:11 If you, then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!

 

God only has good in mind for us, and opens doors for us in His perfect timing. The issue is, will we be patient to follow him even when He hasn’t opened the door, or will we keep banging and pushing on closed doors that we think should be open?
 

 

 

 

 

Food For the Hungry

Lesson 23: Food for the hungry

Acts 13:14-52

 

Although many people don’t realize it, the United States is a nation of contrasts in the area of hunger. On the one hand, there are people who are literally starving to death physically, and on the other hand there are people who literally throw food away every day. But not only is that true in a physical sense, it is also true spiritually. There is a spiritual famine in our nation in many ways and yet at the same time there is plenty of good, solid, biblical food being spread before us every day. Even though it wasn’t addressed directly to the United States, the Old Testament prophet Amos foretold this kind of thing would exist.

 

Behold the days are coming,” says the LORD GOD, that I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD (12) they shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it – Amos 8:11,12

 

This famine is a famine of hearing the truth of God in words people can understand. It is not necessarily because of preachers and programs, and Bibles and churches, but rather, a hunger for clear, accurate, practical teaching of the living word of God. If that is true in our day and our nation, it was even more true in the days of the apostle Paul. God was doing marvelous, even miraculous things, and yet at the same time there were people who were starving to death spiritually. But God has given us a record of that famine and of the way Paul responded to it. In the last half of Acts chapter 13, we’re going to see him sharing the bread of Christ with needy people. But god has given us a record of that famine and of the way Paul responded to it. In the last half of Acts chapter 13, we’re going to see him sharing the bread of Christ with needy people. And from that we hope to see ways in which we can do the same thing in our “famine.”

 

By way of review, remember that the chapter falls into three parts:

 

  1.   The Separation to the Ministry – verses 1 through 4,
  2. The Specifics of the Ministry – verses 5 through 41

III. The Sequel to the Ministry – verses 42 through 52

 

In our last two studies, we have looked at the first two sections of the chapter. We saw in verses 1 through 4 how Barnabas and Saul were “separated” from the ministry in Antioch and called to take the gospel to foreign countries. Then we began looking in our last study at the “specifics” of that ministry in verses 5 through 13. In those verses, we saw how after having little success on the Island of Cypress they finally were able to see the salvation of a Roman official who was literally hungry for the Word of God. His salvation was a real encouragement to Paul and Barnabas because he was surrounded by a worldly lifestyle, and by a philosophy of satanic worship. But in spite of those surroundings, he received the gospel. And verse 12 tells us that he believed when he heard the teaching of the Lord.

 

Verses 13 through 41 deal with the second opportunity for ministry that Paul and Barnabas had. In those verses we read about their ministry to the rulers of the synagogue.” Verses 13 thru 15 tell us about the contact that they made with the rulers, but as we saw at the end of our last study, there was a sad “prelude to the contact,” in verse 13 when John Mark departed from the trip and left Saul and Barnabas to carry on alone.  And so as we pick up our study again in this lesson we want to think about the place of the contact as it is described for us in the first part of verse 14. That verse says:

 

But when they left departed from Perga they came to Antioch in Pisidia.”

 

Now remember that they had been commissioned by the church in Antioch, but this was a different city of the same name. The “Antioch” which was located in Pisidia was a prestigious and strategically located Roman colony in southern Galatia. It was a very strategic place to bring the gospel because it was “nerve center” in the very heart of Asia Minor through which an east-west highway ran. To the west, it connected with the Greek world, and to the east it gave access to Lystra, Derby and Tarsus. Probably Paul and Barnabas had in mind that by preaching the gospel here it would flow throughout Asia Minor, carried along by new believers.

 

So that was “the place” of the contact with the rulers of the synagogue, but verses 14b and 15 tell us about “the pursuit” of that contact. Look at verse 14:

 

They went into the synagogue on the sabbath down (15) And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

 

Unlike many missionaries today, there was no welcoming committee of veteran missionaries there to greet them and give them some orientation. They had only one point of contact: the local synagogue. So, verse 14b says “they went in into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down.”

 

This was a very wise and gracious way to begin. They didn’t burst onto the scene with their “gospel guns” blazing. Rather, they politely waited for god give them an opportunity and waited to see Him work. And sure enough, very soon that opportunity came. Look again at verse 15:

 

And after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them saying, “Men and brethren if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

 

In response to that invitation, verses 16 through 41 tell us about the communication with the rulers.” And “the setting for the communication” is described in verse 16.

 

 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand, said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:

 

Notice again how gracious Paul is. He doesn’t say, “Listen up, you reprobates,” I’ve got what you need, and you’d better pay attention.” No, he speaks kindly and with respect. And the sermon that follows shows Paul’s mastery at communicating the gospel. He begins where his listeners are: in the famine where they are starving for the truth. Then he will fashion his ideas into a pathway that will take them to the luscious fruit of the gospel. Then he will fashion his ideas into a pathway of response. And if they respond in faith, they will find the wonderful freedom and forgiveness of Christ theirs to enjoy. Now with this three step outline in mind lets examine Paul’s sermon up close. The foundation of Paul’s pathway to Christ is set solidly in the Scripture. Verses 17 through 41 give us “the statement of the communication.” In these verses, he quotes from several Old Testament books and thus lends authority to his words while at the same time building on foundational truths with which they would have already been familiar. (Remember that these people were already devout Jews who hadn’t simply had not yet heard the truth about Christ) In verses 17 through 22 he gives “a review of religious history.” In these few verses, he gives a summary of the first nine historical books of the Old Testament. Let’s just read through the verses and let me point out what they touch on.

 

First of all, verse 17 says:  The God of this people Israel chose our fathers.”

 

That is a general summary of the book of Genesis. And then in the middle of verse 17 we read,

 

and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm he brought them out of it.” That is a summary of the book of Exodus.

 

Verse 18 says, “Now for a time of about 40 years he put up with their ways in the wilderness. “That one verse covers the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

 

Then in verse 19 we read “And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.” And that verse covers the book of Joshua.

Verse 20 says “After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years until Samuel the prophet.

 

 And that verse, of course, summarizes the book of judges.

 

And finally, in verses 21 and 22 we have his summary of I and II Samuel. And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years (22)And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David, as king to whom also He gave testimony and said “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will do all my will.

 

 

Can’t you just imagine these devout Jews nodding in agreement with him? He has them interested. He’s talking about things they all know and love. But beginning in verse 23 he adds a new strain that most of them have never heard before. In verses 23 through 37 he gives “a review of recent happenings. Look at 23:

 

From this man’s seed, according to the promise God raised up for Israel.  Many of these people had not heard of Jesus and no doubt were intrigued and hungry for more. Sensing their interest, Paul develops this new theme by telling them about Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist in verses 24 and 25. And with those words he has brought them to the matchless grace of Christ. Then like a tour guide he announces what they are about to see. Look at verse 26:

 

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

 

Again notice his warm acknowledgement of his kinship with the people by addressing them as “brethren.” In this way Paul introduces the place to which he has led them – spiritual food to satisfy their hungry souls. But it’s interesting that he doesn’t just dump the truth on them. Rather, he lays it out before them like a banquet; carefully presenting each aspect of the salvation story. He has already set the table by telling them what they are going to hear. Now he carefully offers them the foundational truths of the gospel: First, the crucifixion in verses 27 through 29. Then, the crucifixion in verses 30 through 34, and David’s prophecy of the resurrection and how Jesus Christ fulfilled it in verses 35 and 37.

 

No doubt many of his listeners were enthralled by this time and Paul doesn’t disappoint them. In the next verses, he leads them into the pathway of forgiveness and freedom.

 

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

 

Verse 39 tells them that faith in Christ provides that which many have been seeking through obedience  to the law of Moses and verse 38 points out that Christ’s forgiveness frees them to worship God and to enjoy His benefits. Now the choice is theirs. They must choose between the two. And to underscore that, verses 40 and 41 give a solemn reminder of the Old Testament “revelation of Habakkuk.”

 

“Beware, therefore, lest what was spoken in the prophets come upon you (41)” Behold you despisers, marvel and perish! For I will work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you.”

 

Verse 41 is a quotation of Habakkuk 1:5, one of their own prophets. But now Paul applies it to their relationship to Jesus of Nazareth! How will the people respond to this warning? Well, verses 42 through 52 give us the sequel to the ministry. And the first part of the response is given by the gentiles in verses 42 through 44:

 

Notice that no “altar call” or closing hymn follows Paul’s sermon; he and Barnabas gather up their things and get ready to leave. But in the middle of verse 42 we see that when the Jews went out of the synagogue, “the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.”

 

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

 

Speaking in terms of food again, Paul’s words had opened a kitchen door, as it were, and the aroma of spiritual food on the stove had awakened the deep hunger of these people. And so, verse 44 says that the next sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God – the kind of response every preacher wants. However, not everyone was as enthusiastic. “The response by the Jews” is given in verses 45 through 52

Their actual response is in verse 45:

 

But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.”

 

Here was a clear rejection of the gospel. What will Paul and Barnabas do? Do they panic? Not at all. They are ministering in a famine and they knew there were plenty of other people who craved the gospel. So instead of “force feeding” those who weren’t interested, they turned their efforts to those who were. And incidentally, this is a very important lesson for us to learn as well. In Matthew 7:6, a part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not cast your pearls before swine,” In other words, if you see that someone is not interested in the beautiful jewel of the gospel, you have better things to do than to let them “trample it under foot.” Years later, Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 3:10:

 

Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition knowing that such a person is warped and sinning and he knows it.

 

Again, the lesson is that if a person has clearly understood the gospel at least two times and still rejects it, then you are to reject that person and move on to someone who is willing to listen. That doesn’t mean that that “divisive man” will never get another chance to hear the gospel, in His sovereignty God may bring someone who can reach him. But your responsibility is to move on to someone else. And this is exactly what Paul and Barnabas do 46 and 47. Look at “their rejection” of the Jews:

 

Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first: but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold we turn to the Gentiles. (47) “for so the Lord, has commanded us: “I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.”

 

Then “the Jews’ reaction” to that rejection is given in verses 48 through 52. Now “the reaction itself” is in verse 50. Skip down to that verse:

 

But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

 

But “the cause of their reaction” is back in verses 48 and 49 – the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.

 

This is always what Satan reacts to. He doesn’t care how many other “religious” things you do, but when “the word of the Lord is spread, he opposes it any way he can. But “the contrast to the Jews reaction” is in verses 51 and 52

 

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

 

And this phrase not only describes Paul and Barnabas, but no doubt the new believers whom they were leaving behind. Here is the beautiful result of receiving spiritual food. The Holy spirit causes us to feel that deep hunger that only He can satisfy, and then brings us to the message of Christ, the only one who can satisfy that hunger, the savior of the world. And that always produces great joy.

 

 

 

 

 

When The Going Gets Rough

Lesson 22:

When the Going Gets Rough

Acts 13:5-13 Studies

 

When you became a Christian did you think all the hard times would be over? Maybe you thought the Christian life would be like a big amusement park, where worries would be checked at the door and everything would be clean and happy. Or maybe you thought there would never be any more temptation or difficulty. But by now you probably have realized that the truth is that life often gets more difficult after we become Christians! We feel a new tension between living in the world but not being of it. And the more we come to know of God and His word, the more the we discover about ourselves that makes us uncomfortable. The frail balloon of idealism doesn’t last long among the thorns of reality.

 

And yet, the Christian life, even in those kinds of realities, isn’t an unpleasant thing at all – in fact just the opposite – if we understand how God wants us to navigate through those kinds of difficulties. A fairly new Christian by the name of Saul of Tarsus (later called by his Greek name, “Paul”) as he is presented to us in the next few chapters of the book of Acts, as that kind of navigator. And the purpose of those chapters is to show us the kinds of bumps and jolts that can come in the road of the Christian life – and the kinds of victories that God can give in those situations.

 

Chapters 13 through 21 of the book of Acts are going to cover what Bible scholars have come to call “the missionary journeys of Paul.” And they are called that because in those chapters Paul and various companions covered the extent of the world of their day preaching the gospel, just as Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. In our last study, we began looking at the way it all began. By way of review, remember that the chapter falls into three parts:

 

  1. The Separation to the Ministry – verses 1 through 4,
  2. The Specifics of the Ministry – verses 5 through 41

III. The Sequel to the Ministry – verses 42 through 52

 

In our last study, we looked at the first 4 verses, which showed us how it all started. No one had ever been on a missionary trip like this before. There were no books or diaries about how missionaries operate. There were no courses in “cross cultural” ministries in the seminaries. Like the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, they could only imagine what lay ahead of them. They probably dreamed of people and churches blooming in every town they went to. They Certainly had reason to be optimistic on the basis of what had happened up to this point. They had been personally called out from a dynamic church by the Holy Spirit in verses 1 and 2, and they had been commended to that ministry by the leaders and the people of the church in Antioch in verses 3 and 4. And so verse 4 records that they set sail for Cypress.

 

So in this study we take up with verses 5 through 41, which give the specifics of the ministry. The first person with whom they dealt was a Roman official described in verses 5 through 12. But before we see the details of his conversion, his surroundings are described first in verses 5 and 6a

 

And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. (6) Now when they had gone through the island to Patmos . . . .”

 

Cyprus had somewhat the position in the Roman world that Hawaii has in ours – a beautiful place to visit – or minister! And remember that Barnabas was originally from Cyprus, so he would have known the area well. They began in verse 5 with a practice that was to become Paul’s “trademark” – they preached the word of God in the synagogue of the Jews.” But the first hint of anything less than ideal is tucked away in the first line of verse 6 – “when they had gone through the island . . .” between the lines we can almost  read “no converts.” And even perhaps a little discouragement. But there is an indication of the reason for that in the last part of verse 6. There we find the philosophical surroundings of this Roman official.

 

. . . they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew who was with the proconsul, a Jew whose name was bar-Jesus (2) who was with the proconsul, Sergius, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. Down through the centuries Cyprus had been ruled by Egypt, Phoenicia, Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome. And all of those nations had Pagan religious systems. By the time Paul and Barnabas got there the worship centered around occult magic and a female deity by the name of Aphrodite. So, this was the philosophy with which this Roman official was surrounded. But those surroundings were complicated even further by the presence of a sinister enemy described in verses 8 through 11. First his desire is described in verse 8

 

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

 

Roman officials, no matter how intelligent, were often superstitious, and apparently Sergius Paulus was no exception. And apparently Elymas was somehow profiting from this weakness, which was why he was so opposed to Paul’s message. But then his denunciation is given in verses 9 through 11

 

Then Paul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” (11) Now indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you and you will be blind, not seeing the sun for a time. “And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

 

Notice that “Saul’s name is changed to “Paul” in verse 9 – and Saul is never mentioned again.  And then notice that as he gave this stern rebuke to Elymas he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This shows that the Holy Spirit does not always act “sweetly” – notice the descriptive names of verse 10 And yet everything Paul said was the truth. Sometimes the truth is harsh – and when it is there is no other way to give it! A better term might be “righteous indignation.” The blinding of Elymas in verse 11 was another of the confirmations given throughout this era of history that God’s power was behind Paul (and other believers). But of course, the most important aspect of this whole passage is the salvation of the Roman official in verse 12

 

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

 

The miracle may have amazed him, but it was “the teaching of the Lord” that astonished him and caused him to believe. The Proconsul’s salvation no doubt raised the missionaries’ drooping spirits and gave them encouragement for the ministry ahead. And their experience teaches us that evangelism is not always an easy ministry. God doesn’t shield us from the normal affairs of life as we go about trying to witness for Him.

 

Remember that this middle section of the chapter has to do with “the specifics of the ministry” of Paul and Barnabas on that second missionary journey. Now we have seen the ministry to the Roman official in verses 5 through 12. So now in verses 13 through 41 we are going to see that they also had ministry to the rulers of the synagogue. That ministry begins with a description of the way in which they developed their contact with the rulers in verses 13 through 15 But that contact actually has a sad prelude in verse 13

 

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

 

Luke records this incident with stark brevity. But from his words we can piece together why John Mark may have left them. First notice that Luke refers to “Paul and his companions.” Before this it had been Barnabas and Saul (see 12:25 and 13:2). Apparently after his confrontation with Elymas, Paul had taken the lead on the team. And this may not have set well with Mark, who was Barnabas’ nephew. Also, the new area they came to, Pamphylia, was well know for disease and danger. So all of this may have added up to unbearable stress for Mark. The lackluster response in the first part of the ministry in Cyprus, coupled with the demonic power demonstrated in Paphos were bad enough, but when sudden change of leadership were added to that, perhaps it was more than he could stand.

 

Can you imagine the disappointment, shame and guilt that must have surrounded Mark in this time of failure? But, as in so many other cases in scripture, the story doesn’t end with this failure – In chapter 15 Barnabas accepts him for another missionary journey (although Paul initially disagreed.) And later even Paul agreed that he had been restored, because he wrote to Timothy in second Timothy 4:10 and 11 “pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” And in closing his letter to the Colossians, he wrote “if Mark comes to you receive him,” further indicating his restoration.

 

This story prepares us for tough times in two ways: First, it teaches us that there is no accomplishment without determination. Whenever you are tempted before the job is done, remember that if you don’t persevere you won’t see God’s purposes fulfilled for this part of your life. And second, it reminds us that there is no burden too heavy for Christ to carry. No matter how determined you may be, the circumstances in your life may at some point overwhelm you, just as they did Mark. When those times come, don’t quit. Rather, give your burden over to the one who also was faced far more difficult circumstances; the Lord Jesus. He bore the cross, He can certainly bear your burden as well. And that is exactly what He has told us to do.

 

Psalm 55:22 says, “cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you, He will never allow the righteous to be moved. And I Peter 5:7 says, “casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.

 

The purpose of these lessons is to help you to understand that Romans 3:23 says that all of us, including you, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, our purpose is to help you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and perhaps bring others to Him also. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached

At Living BibleStudies.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Road Again Studies in the Book of Acts Lesson 21: On the Road Again” Acts 13:1-4 One of the things that has come to characterize American Society in the twenty-first century is “mobility.” Statistics say that the average American will change jobs three times during his working years. And those same statistics say that the average family will move 2.5 times during their child-bearing years. Most of us have been affected in one way or another by those kinds of statistics, haven’t we? But this is not the first generation or the first society of which those things have been true. In fact, for the first generation of Christians described in the book of Acts, it was a mandate from God. In Acts 1:8 Jesus had told the disciples that they would be witnesses for Him “in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the world.” And as we look back over the chapters that we have studied thus far we see that they have fulfilled that mandate very well. Chapters 1 through 7 describe their activities in Jerusalem as they got established in the faith. Then in chapters 8 through 12 we see their activities and ministry in Judea and Samaria. And so, beginning here in chapter 13 and going through the rest of the book we will see how they fulfill the mandate to go “to the uttermost parts of the earth.” In all of these movements and ministry, God has had to “move them out” in various ways – they, like us, would probably have preferred to settle down and stay put. But His work in their lives is going to continue to push them out to new areas in the chapters ahead as well. Chapter 13 falls into three parts: First, in verses 1 through 4 we have the separation to the ministry. Then in verses 5 through 41 we have the specifics of the ministry and finally, in verses 42 through 52 we have the sequel to the ministry So, let’s begin our study by looking at the separation to the Ministry that we find in verses 1 through 4. And the first thing that is mentioned is the circumstances in which the separation was made. The first characteristic of the church at Antioch was interaction described in verse 1. Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucias of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod, and Saul. Now those may not seem like very stimulating verses at first glance, but they contain a wealth of information about the circumstances there in the early church. First is just the mention of the city of Antioch. This was the Roman capitol of Syria, and the gateway to the east. Like most large cities of that day or this, Antioch was a multicultural trade center, rich and bawdy. On the outskirts of town stood the temple of the goddess Daphne, a deplorable center of prostitution and pagan worship. Chariot racing and other sports lured gambling into the city, where the atmosphere exuded a “high rolling” lifestyle. The Imperial Mint of Rome was also located there, so there was much government activity as well. But that was not all there was to Antioch – behind the scenes of the glaring social life and nightlife, God was kindling the fires of Christian faith and morality. Notice in verse 1 that there were “prophets” and “teachers.” The prophets were still active in those early years of the church because the letters and other writings of the apostles and other inspired teachers had not yet been gathered together as one book (the New Testament, or “canon of scripture”) So the prophets probably provided special guidance from the Lord as needed. The gift of teaching was a little different, having to with the teaching that was already revealed in the Old Testament and perhaps clarifying what the prophets had revealed. And these prophets and teachers included at least the 5 men listed here, possibly more. Now its easy to skip over a verse like this, thinking it is just another list of hard to pronounce names. But we would miss a significant insight if we did that, because these men provided a rich “mix” of various backgrounds from which to lead the church – look again at the last half of the verse: Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucias of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Barnabas was a Jew from the island of Cypress, as we have seen in previous studies. Simeon also had the name “Niger,” the verse tells us. This is a Latin term meaning “black skinned” (the source of the name of the nation of “Nigeria,” and probably the little used term “negro” for African-Americans. Lucius was from Cyrene, which was west of Egypt, on the coast of Africa. His name was Greek, so he may have been a Gentile. Manean was a member of “High society,” having grown up with Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee (not the Herod of chapter 12), and of course, Saul, with his impressive education and training as a Rabbi. So, what we have here is a very cosmopolitan leadership team – a Cyprian Jew, a black man, a Gentile, an aristocrat and a rabbi! And with that kind of mix they would have been able to minister to the many different ethnic groups and profession that would have been in a big city like Antioch. So that was the kind of “interaction” that was going on in the church of Antioch. But in verse 2 we find an interruption in all of that. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Notice first that the Holy Spirit spoke “as they ministered” to the Lord and fasted.” This is another of the places in scripture which tell us that God usually speaks to us about ministry while we are ministering. And that is because we are most sensitive to the Holy Spirit at those times. We don’t know exactly how the Holy Spirit led the congregation to set apart these two men, but we do know that the plan was specific and selective. The call wasn’t for everyone, just for Barnabas and Saul. And they were not to choose their own mission field – God had a specific work for them to do. And there is a sense in which this specific and selective call of God is encouraging to us, because it reminds us of how personal His plan is for each of us. Thus on the one hand we don’t need to feel guilty when He guides our friends in some other direction. Or on the other hand that we become judgmental if he calls us to ministry and doesn’t call our friends. Now all of that is underscored when we realize who the central figure in the separation is Look at verses 3 and 4 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. (4) So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cypress. The central figure in this call to the mission field was not from the pastor, nor the missions committee, but the Holy Spirit – note verse 4 – “being sent out by the Holy Spirit. . . . ” Actually, this emphasis is demonstrated in verse 2 also. One of the problems with too many ministries is that men make the decisions, not the Holy Spirit. And even though it may be a difficult task to determine what the Lord is leading, we must always be careful that our calling is from Him. One of the keys to determining this kind of thing is in verse 3 “having fasted and prayed . . . . they sent them away.” Fasting is one of the most neglected disciplines in the Christian life. Most people seem to think that it is an Old Testament concept, but it is mentioned often in the New Testament (as in these verses) But it may be that it was as a result of fasting and prayer that they understood the call of God for Barnabas and Saul. And the very least we can say is that it is that kind of heart attitude in which the Holy Spirit can best communicate with us. Notice, too, the participation of the congregation in sending them out – the elders of the church laid hands on them, as they sent them out. This is another practice that we find in many places in the record of the early church. And it is a sign of “identification” with the person or the project that is being inaugurated. It probably grew out of the Old Testament practice of laying hands on an animal before the it was given as a sacrifice. This was a sign of the maturity of this relatively new church. They didn’t cling to their friends, but released them to go to other ministries. In my years of ministry as a pastor I have repeatedly seen an individual or a couple called into the Lord’s service and have wondered how the congregation would be able to “do without them,” but time after time they returned with wonderful reports of how their ministry, usually in other parts of the world, had, in a sense, extended the ministry of those of us whom they had left behind. And in almost every case God “took up the slack by providing other gifted people to take their place. And this is a principle that still continues to this day. One reason today’s church doesn’t seem to realize this is the emphasis (or should I say “over emphasis) that is so often placed on “church growth.” There is nothing wrong with church growth if the growth is provided by the Holy Spirit. But most church growth programs are really just “recruiting” programs. And when a church is built around people or programs who have been “recruited.” there is a void when they leave (until somebody can be recruited to take their place.) But when the Lord has produced the growth and somebody leaves there can be a quiet confidence that He will provide somebody to take their place. And so this section of the chapter concludes with Barnabas and Saul actually launching out into their new ministry in verse 4. So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. It is one thing to be called by the Lord to do some ministry (and to know that you have not been called by men.) But even more important than the call is to follow through with it and actually go to the place of service. Many lives have been thwarted when people refused to follow through for one reason or another. Following the Lord’s leading whether in one project or a lifetime of ministry is an exciting adventure. If you are willing to be available for such a call there are three principles in this passage that will help you: First, don’t ever get so settled” in a place or a ministry that you completely rule out a call to another place (or to a new ministry in the same place.) It is possible to get so deeply rooted in our surroundings – our house; our friends; our memories; or even our ministry – to move out when he calls. But while on the one hand God does sometimes keep people in one place for a long time, or even for a lifetime, He also sometimes moves people after a lengthy, happy, stay in one place. Second, pay attention as you pursue what you are already doing for the Lord. It is in the midst of following Him that He often leads most clearly. Third, remember that God’s call is always selective. Be careful not to judge others who stay behind, or feel hurt when God sends someone else. Fourth, when God does call you, be sure to prayerfully follow through to complete obedience to the call. -end- The purpose of these lessons is to help you to understand that Romans 3:23 says that all of us, including you, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, our purpose is to help you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and perhaps bring others to Him also. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached At Living BibleStudies.org

” Prison “Break”

Studies in Acts

Lesson 20

“Prison Break”

Acts 12:1-17

 

One of the biggest questions in the Christian life is, “Why?” We ask why God did this or that thing, Or we ask why He didn’t (or hasn’t) done this or that or the other thing. But the common denominator of every question that we ask about something that seems to us to be unfair, or inconsistent with God’s character. And one of the things that Christians most often ask about is something that we find for the fifth time as chapter 12 opens: the persecution of Christians. This is the fifth “round” of persecution that we find here. The first round was by the religious leaders back in chapter 4. Then there was persecution from the Sadducees because of the preaching of the resurrection.  Then third, there was persecution of the members of the Synagogue of the Libertines brought Stephen to trial in chapter 6. Growing out of that, Saul headed up the intense persecution of the church in chapter 8. Ironically, this fifth round of persecution here in chapter 11 begins just about the time Saul (not yet known as “Paul”) is heading out on a missionary journey himself!

 

By way of outline this chapter falls into three parts:

 

  1. The Harassment of the church – verses 1 through 17
  2. The Haughtiness of Herod – verses 18 through 23.

III.  The Health of the Ministry – verses 24, 25

 

So the first thing we want to think about is this Harassment of the church in verses 1 through 17.

And the first thing we see in that regard is the intensity of the harassment brought out in verses   1 and 2

 

Now about that time Herod the King stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. (2) then he killed James the brother of John with the sword

 

Verse 2 is quite an understatement if you think about it. If we read verse one by itself we might think of “hazing “like they do in college fraternities. And we might think, “what a waste! Why would God allow this kind of thing to happen? But it is obvious from verse 2 that Herod is going to play “hardball” with these Christians.

 

Now the intention in the persecution is found in verses 3 and 4

 

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

 

 

Notice the first line of verse 3 – that’s where we find his intention: “because it pleased the Jews!” To understand a ridiculous reason for murder like this we have to know something about Herod and about Israel. First, we have to remember that Israel had been taken captive by the Roman Empire. And even though Rome allowed the Sanhedrin (the Jewish governmental organization) to continue to have power over religious matters (even to the point of the death penalty) all of the civil authorities were appointed from Rome. And that is where the Herod family comes into the picture. It helps to remember that there was a whole family of Herods in the days of the New Testament. This particular Herod was Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod Antipas, who had killed all of the male babies at the time of Jesus’ birth (and nephew of another Herod). Secular history tells us that he was fascinated with two things: the Jews and royalty. And his philosophy of government was that if you wanted to keep being a member of “royalty” you had to please the Jews (and particularly the religious Jews (although the Herod “family” was not even Jewish.

And as we have been seeing in the past few chapters the thing that would please the Jews the most would be to Harass the Christians.

 

Now when we come to a passage like this we are prone to ask “why?” Why did God allow James to be put to death for such a sniveling reason? And why did he allow Peter to live? Why didn’t He rescue James like we are going to see that He rescues Peter in a few verses? And the only answer is one that sounds like a cop-out, but it is actually in the Bible: Deuteronomy 29:29 –

 

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever.”

 

One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to get us to ask questions for which there is no human answer. But notice carefully: that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer, it just means that God has chosen not to tell us the answers to some things. But notice, too, that He reminds us in that verse that there are plenty of things that He has revealed. And he has also promised that He is working all of those things together for our good (even the things that He hasn’t chosen to reveal to us.) So whatever happens, as puzzling as it may seem to be to us will always be within the parameters of those promises – in His mind whether we can see it His way or not.

 

Fortunately, however, verses 5 through 11 bring out the interruption in the harassment. The prelude to the interruption is in verses 5 and 6

 

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

 

Here is an impossible: situation: Peter was in prison – verse 5, and not only that, but “bound with two chains” “between two guards” and two guards at the doors – verse 6. But notice his attitude – sleeping in the midst of it all. Peter’s Maturity had come a long way since the night he cut “Malchus’ ear off. For one thing, he had been through this before, back in chapter 5. And for another thing he may have been remembering Jesus’ promise to him in John 21:18 that he would live to be an old man.

 

Then in verses 7 through 10 we see the actual perpetration of the interruption

 

Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up saying, “arise quickly!” And the chains fell off his hands. (8)Then the angel said to him “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals,” and so he did. And he said to him, “put on your garment and follow me (9) So he went out and followed him, and did not know what was done by the angel and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (10) When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

 

There are a couple of things to notice in those verses. First of all, notice in verse 7 that the angel had to wake Peter up – another indication of his relaxed attitude. Then notice that the angel did the impossible – verses 8 through 10 – Peter had to do the things that he could do for himself, such as putting on his coat and sandals in verse 8. This is a microcosm of the way God always treats His children. He will do the impossible for us if necessary, but He expects us to do for ourselves (after salvation)

 

And so in verse 11 we see the praise which Peter gives:

 

And when Peter had come to himself, he said, Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the Jewish people”

 

Verse 9 tells us that he thought he was seeing a vision, but now he knows the truth. And notice that the soldiers apparently didn’t hear a thing. Even in our day angelic activity may not be recognizable. Hebrews 13:2 says that “some have entertained angels  unawares”

 

and

 

So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying (13) And as Peter knocked on the door of the gate a girl named Rhoda came to answer (14) When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness, she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate (15) But they said to her, “You are beside yourself! “Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So, they said, “It is his angel.” (16) Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

 

Actually, of course, their amazement was in the fact that God had answered their prayers in the way he did. But there are a couple of lessons in that: First, here is an example of a situation in which God let conditions deteriorate so that He could demonstrate His power. Just think: if He had not allowed Peter to be imprisoned  they would have never had the experience of seeing the power of God up close. And this is exactly what James says about trials  – to the point  that we should – “count it all joy” when they come along. Along the same line, Paul writes in II Corinthians12 that because God would not remove his “thorn in the flesh” he had learned the grace of God in a way that he never would otherwise have learned – to the point that he said “most gladly therefore will I suffer infirmities,”

But another lesson to learn from these verses has to do with how we pray. Verses 5 and 12 tell us that Peters friends were praying, but they don’t tell us the content of the prayers. But we can assume that they weren’t praying for Peter’s release – they were mature enough not to be surprised by an obvious answer to prayer. They were probably simply praying that he would have grace and courage in the face of death. And the lesson in that is that it never hurts to pray for exactly what want in a given situation. Sometimes we are too proud to tell God what we really want, so we ask for something that He would be more impressed with. But if the matter is in His hands in the first place, why not just tell Him what we want and be prepared for Him to do something else if He chooses to? The scripture does tell us to “ask according to His will,” but if we are not sure what that is, it is all right if we ask what we want. The key is is just not to be angry or disappointed if He does something else.

 

In the  midst of his friends’ amazement, Peter calms them down in verse 17 with his explanation of what happened (“authentication”)

 

But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison and he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren and he departed to another place.

 

So that is how this instance of “the harassment of the church” came to a close. But the last few verses of the chapter tell us the haughtiness of Herod  and how his life ended. His pride. First it is demonstrated in the callous execution of the prison guards in verses 18 and 19

 

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

 

It is true that under Roman law guards were responsible with their lives for their prisoners. But Herod had to have known that his was no ordinary “jailbreak.” But the real indication of his haughtiness is in the last line of verse 19 – he just “went down to Caesarea.” As though nothing had happened. But the most serious indication of his pride- especially in God’s sight – was his acceptance of praise and glory

 

Because of what is about to happen, Luke thinks it is important to give all of the background, which he does in verses 20 and 21

 

Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord and having made Blastus, the king’s personal aide, their friend, they asked for peace because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country. (21) so on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. (22) And the people kept shouting “it is the voice of a god and not a of a man!

 

Evidently the “set day” mentioned in verse 21 was an official announcement of the settling of the disagreement between the two countries. When Herod gave his speech the people who were going to be benefitted by the treaty were low enough to shout out this ridiculous flattery, and Herod was vain enough to believe that they really meant it! (politicians never change, do they?) And the result is described in the next verse: Having seen “his pride” in verses 18 through 22, verse 23 describes his pain

 

Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God, and he was eaten with worms and died.

 

Of course, the key to the whole thing is the words “he did not give glory to God.” The scripture is full of statements of God’s protection of His glory. But this is one of the few places where he actually punishes it in this part of history. But Psalm 2 shows how the day will ultimately come when he will pour out His righteous anger on all the kings of the world who have had this kind of haughtiness.

 

Finally, verses 24 and 25 give, by contrast, the health of the ministry:

 

But the word of God grew and multiplied (25) And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry; and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark

 

Here is another of those subtle reminders that we find throughout scripture of the fact that God is not frustrated when Satan’s workers appear to have the upper hand. Developments in our own day with the failures of communism in the health of the body of Christ in the health of the body of Christ under the worst kinds of oppression. Even while the “herods” of this world occupy the places of “gods” in the hearts and minds of men, God’s program moves ahead. And ultimately, of course, He will be magnified as the only “King of kings and “Lord of Lords.