Lesson 23: Food for the hungry
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:
- The Separation to the Ministry – verses 1 through 4,
- 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.