Sunday March 24th
I heard about a police officer who saw a car speeding down the highway, so he started chasing after the speeder.
When he got close to the car, he saw that it was an old lady behind the wheel, and she was knitting while she was driving.
The cop pulled up alongside her, motioned to her, and yelled, "Pull over!"
But the lady just shook her head and shouted back, "No, it's a cardigan!"
Speaking of getting chased, you might recall from last week that Paul and Barnabas got chased out of a town called Antioch by some Jewish leaders who were jealous of the numbers of people who had started following Jesus through Paul’s preaching. So as chapter 14 starts, they are in a new town, but they are going to get chased from there to! Here’s how chapter 14 begins:
In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.
Paul and Barnabas had traveled eighty miles southeast from Antioch to Iconium, but the persecution just followed them from one city to another. However, they didn’t let that stop them from preaching the Gospel!
3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.
For the first time here at the end of verse 4, the term apostle is used to include men like Barnabas in addition to the original 12 apostles chosen by Jesus
5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
So now, Paul and Barnabas have to flee again, and they head for the towns of Lystra and Derbe. One interesting thing to note is that these two cities, along with Iconium, made up the Roman province of Galatia. So when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, it was to the people in the churches of this region. And here we see a powerful miracle occur, which gives testimony to the power of the words that they were preaching:
8 At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.
The healing of this lame man has many features in common with Peter’s healing of Aeneas in chapter 9 and with the healing the lame man at the temple gate in chapter 3. This man had been lame from his birth, and when Paul saw that he had the faith to be cured, he commanded him to stand up on his feet. Just like the man at the Beautiful Gate, this man leaped up and walked about when he was healed.
11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
To help us understand this extreme reaction, we need to know that an ancient legend circulated around Lystra that the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes once disguised themselves as men and came to earth, seeking hospitality.
Only one couple welcomed them, and their cottage was changed into a temple with a golden roof and marble columns. But those who had refused to help the gods were destroyed. These people may have been thinking of that legend when they worshiped Barnabas and Paul and prepared to sacrifice oxen to honor them. Paul and Barnabas weren’t exactly thrilled with this hospitality:
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”18 Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Paul uses this misunderstanding as an opportunity to preach a sermon. But since this sermon is addressed to a pagan crowd who wouldn’t understand the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul instead stresses God’s role as the creator, provider, and sustainer of their lives. (More on the later)
Meanwhile, the enemies of the gospel weren’t far behind:
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.
You just can’t keep a good man down! Not only does Paul get back up after being stoned and left for dead, he then gets up the next morning and travels sixty-five miles south to preach in another town!
21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
If anyone had the right to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is entered through tribulation, Paul had definitely earned that right! And his courage strengthened the new believers in each of these towns.
24 They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. 25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. 27 When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a long time with the disciples.
Paul and Barnabas had traveled many miles, suffered many hardships, and had many testimonies to share when they arrived back home – testimonies of God’s power and faithfulness.
Here are three quick takeaways from this chapter that we can use in our own lives, especially as it relates to sharing the Gospel:
1. PEOPLE ARE EASILY DECEIVED
When the people saw the miraculous healing of a crippled man they immediately jumped to wrong conclusions. They assumed that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes. What other explanation could there be?
Without the light of the Gospel, people are easily deceived because they have no solid point of reference. They don’t have the Bible to help them discern truth from error. That’s why there are so many strange, bizarre cults in this world. Satan has blinded the spiritual eyes of so many people and deceived them.
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil “is a liar, and the father of lies.”
Satan’s greatest weapon has ALWAYS been deception. We see a greater departure from the truth and the things of God now than at any time in the history of the world. There’s never been a time when so many people in so many places have been deceived by so many deceptions. Paul tells us this in 2 Timothy 3:13 “…evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
Don’t be surprised how many people are being duped by the enemy of our souls…
Those who believe that God will not judge sin in the Great Judgment; or that there is another way to God besides through Jesus Christ, or that their good deeds are sufficient to save them - they are all simply deceived.
Satan can even deceive Christians to believe that they can be a follower of Christ and live any way they want to without any consequences for their choices.
He tries to deceive us into believing that a certain type of sin isn’t really so bad after all.
He tries to deceive us into believing that we can handle our problems on our own or run our own lives, without God’s help.
He tries to deceive us into believing that we should live by how we feel instead of what God commands us to do.
ANYTHING that is contrary to God’s Word is a lie. We need to take God at His Word and believe the TRUTH, not Satan’s lies.
2nd - MOST PEOPLE RESENT THE EXPOSURE OF THEIR CHERISHED DECEPTIONS – In verse 18 we saw that after Paul had preached to them – “Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”
Isn’t this amazing? Paul and Barnabas told these people the clear truth of the Gospel, and they could still barely restrain the people from worshiping them.
Why do you think they responded this way? Well, because people don’t like to have their cherished deceptions exposed. It’s upsetting, unsettling, threatening. These people wanted to believe that Paul and Barnabas were Gods because it fit with their preconceived beliefs. Often times people resent exposure of their deceptions.
They would rather stick with their wrong beliefs than hear the real truth.
So we shouldn’t get discouraged if we run into people who would rather keep their false beliefs when they are offered the chance to know the truth.
And that’s our 3rd and final point today - TRUTH IS THE ONLY ANTIDOTE TO DECEPTION
How did Paul respond to all this confusion and persecution? Paul started preaching the truth to them.
First, he said that God is THE LIVING GOD Verse 15 – “We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God.”
The idols and gods they worshiped were not living because they did not, in fact, truly exist. They were just images of stone and wood, but there was nothing truly behind their idols, and the gods they worshipped were merely myths. God, however, is, always was, and always will be alive and active on earth. He is the LIVING God!
The second truth Paul told them was that God is the CREATOR OF ALL THINGS – He goes on to say in the rest of verse 15 that He is the living God… who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
The Greeks believed in the myth of the creation of the world by the god Chaos. Paul was trying to tell them about the true God, the creator of ALL things—the heavens above, the land, the sea, and everything in the land and sea.
The last thing Paul told them was that God is GOOD – Verse 17 – “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
It was important for them to know that the living God is good and benevolent. The Greek gods were often cruel and vindictive and vain and selfish and they committed the worst possible evils and atrocities imaginable— they were, evil, vindictive, hateful, proud, and predatory.
But, Paul said, the true God is always good, kind, merciful and loving. He does good things for mankind to cause us to turn to Him for salvation.
Unfortunately, in this situation, Paul wasn’t able to finish his sermon and get to the most important part.
Verses 18-19 says that the angry crowd took Paul outside the city and stoned him and left him for dead.
Had he been able to continue his sermon, he would have told them that the ultimate way God showed love –
by sending His Son Jesus to die for their sins, and that if they would put their faith in Jesus, God would forgive their sins, and give them eternal life.
Do you know those truths today?
Do you know the God who is ALIVE and working to bring about His perfect will for your life?
Do you know the God who is the CREATOR OF ALL THINGS—the God who is powerful and can do WONDERS in your life if you’ll follow Him?
Do you know the God who is so GOOD and KIND that even the BAD things in your life can turn out good?
Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
If you have never put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin and give you eternal life, let me tell you, He’s a GOOD God. Jesus has never let me down, never failed me, and He’s always been there to help and encourage and strengthen and lift me up when I have been down. I’ve never met a follower of Jesus who regretted giving his or her life to God. Come to Jesus this morning; ask Him to save you; put your life in His hands.
Antioch was an Apostolic Center, meaning a sending base, unlike most churches which primarily focused on reaching their own people group. As established in Acts 11 the church of Antioch was rich in culture and gifts. Here in Acts 13, we see the five-fold offices of Prophet and Teacher.
One of them being Simeon who is described as black, why weren't the skin of the others highlighted? It was rare in the culture of the time to see a black person working alongside white people, this was brought forth so that we can see that in the Kingdom of God there is no respecter of persons, we are all one in Christ Jesus, and equal in value.
It also highlighted Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch. A friend of a ruler was most likely wealthy and a person of high influence. This reveals that in the Kingdom there is no divide amongst the class. Rich and poor are all alike and equally empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God's work.
It also named Barnabus and Saul known as Apostles but yet doing the work of Prophets and Teachers. Apostles have the grace to step into whatever office is needed at the time until others have been established and then they can move forward in apostolic initiatives.
In verse 2-3 it says "that as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said set Barnabus and Saul apart for the work I have called them to." Then the leaders laid hands on them and sent them off.
Ministers can get so caught up in helping others that they forget their number one purpose is to minister to God. We were created for fellowship with our creator above all and all ministry should come as the result of the overflow of our relationship with Him. The purpose of fasting is not to get God to do something for us, no, it is so we can become more one with Him in the Spirit. Until we are delivered from our earthly bodies their will always be a struggle with our flesh. Fasting kills the flesh, it helps us live a more Spirit-filled life. Fasting clears up our thought life so we can hear more clearly and receive divine direction. For Christian leaders to lead well they need to be led by God, fasting must be a regular discipline if a church is going to be moving in the timing of the Lord.
Some people go out but they just went because they weren't sent. There are occasions though when people don't have a support team of leaders who fast, pray and hear from God and the Lord sends them anyway. Ideally, it is best to receive confirmation from the leadership of your church before going out. The support of the body of Christ is so important regarding successful missionary activity. If the Holy Spirit is not leading us our good missional intentions can turn into utter chaos.
The key to praying effectively is heaven down approach rather than heaven up. God, the Father directing us what to pray rather than us telling Him what we think He should do. The disciples recognized that the source behind Jesus walking in authority was His prayer life and so they asked Him how to pray? In the Lord's prayer, it says "thy kingdom come, they will be done, here on earth, as it is in heaven." We first must believe that we can hear from God, secondly if we are struggling to hear we got to ask why? The possible reasons for hindrances in prayer are unforgiveness, unconfessed sins, wrong motives, and biblical illiteracy. If we remove these hindrances we are ready to step into becoming prayer warriors.
Another way of understanding effective prayer is through baseball. God the Father is the pitcher, the ball is prayer, we are the batters. It is like a Father teaching their child how to hit the ball, they pitch it so it is easy not to miss. As long as we are willing to listen, God will speak, and He will show us what is on His heart. Vision is the key to hitting the ball and the same as praying the will of God. We often pray according to whatever comes to our mind, but that can be misleading, we have spiritual senses, and sight is given so we can receive pictures and divine knowledge so we can pray the perfect will of God. Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father doing. Seeing is the key to hearing and then being sent with His authority to do. A baseball player doesn't hit the ball and stares and watch, they run, prayer without faith which is a verb meaning action goes nowhere. Prayer allows us to see the unseen, Faith manifests it into being.
A ball can be hit in many different directions, foul balls, infield, outfield, and home runs. In this spiritual analogy, foul balls are prayers sent to those within the boundaries of our own home, church family. Infield represent prayers sent to our work, school, community (Jerusalem), the outfield is our region (Judea, Samaria), and home runs are the world (uttermost parts). We are all sent somewhere, prayer opens the way, and faith establishes it. We may not all be sent out like Paul to other nations but as long as we are saved out of darkness, we have been sent into the world wherever we may be.
Paul, Barnabas, and their assistant John Mark were sent out by the Holy Spirit on their first mission trip. While in Paphos they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus who was closely connected to the governor who upon hearing about them invited them to come and share the word of God. The sorcerer interfered trying to prevent the governor from hearing the Truth.
When we are sent out by the Holy Spirit we have the delegated authority to face whatever opposition we experience with the power of God. Prayer with fasting is what the Father uses to help prepare us for high-level spiritual warfare. We are sent out to take ground and the enemy is not just going to leave without a fight so we should not be surprised when all hell breaks loose.
The key to being a great athlete is one's level of dedication in training. We are not saved by works but for us to grow in spiritual authority we need to learn obedience. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 describe the strict training necessary to discipline our flesh. If we are going to be agents of change like Paul and Barnabus we need to make ourselves ready, and as we do, we will receive missions from the Lord.
Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at the sorcerer and put him in his place speaking judgment over him that he would be struck with blindness.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we are no longer speaking in our own authority but that of the Father. Words that would be seriously offensive and cause a major uproar silence the enemy because the King of kings is the one speaking. When the lion of Judah roars every creature must bow. There is nobody that can stand against the word of the Lord!
Through Paul's obedience and not backing down to the witchcraft around him, a man of great influence the Proconsul came to believe, being astonished at the teaching about the Lord. Now the Kingdom of God would have the opportunity to affect the government in this land.
In verse 13 it says Paul and his companions set sail but John, however, left them. Paul we find out later was upset with John Mark and didn't want him to travel with them and it caused a dispute between Barnabus and himself. It doesn't give John's reason but from the previous scriptures, it would seem he was not ready for this level of spiritual warfare or that maybe since he was an original disciple he expected to be in charge, not Paul who was just starting out.
Holy Spirit is all about harmony between leaders but sometimes one or both individuals have disagreements, we must try to reconcile, but yet, be ready to move on if it can't be found.
Paul and Barnabus searched for towns that had synagogues to pass on the good news. They did this knowing that the message would be easier to understand by those who had a biblical background. What it would take was convincing them that Jesus Christ was their promised Messiah, revealed through scripture. The God-fearers were most open, for they had not been allowed to fully convert unless they completely abandoned their culture. These are those who Paul used to establish as leaders in each community where he planted a church as it spread further to the Gentiles.
We cannot expect to be effective missionaries if we don't seek Holy Spirit for strategy before we are sent into new territories. Some people like to figure things out as situations arise but the wise pray and seek wisdom before stepping into new ground.
In a different city called Antioch in the area Pisidia, Paul preached a sermon that was well received, and he was asked to preach the following Sabbath. Many Jews and proselytes began to follow and the next week nearly the whole town showed up. This enraged the Jewish leaders and out of jealousy they spread lies about Paul and Barnabus amongst the Jews, and so they now focused on the Gentiles which received the message with joy. The Jews stirred up persecution and they were forced out of that region but the message continued to spread.
There will be times that our mission seems to fall short but as long as we know we did everything we can, we can trust the Lord will build on it. His word never comes back void it will accomplish what it was sent to perform. What man may think is a failure time will prove it a success.
Sunday March 10th
Often times you hear stories about the power of prayer. People want to know, “Does prayer work?”
For example, I heard a story about a golfer who was in his eighties, who had a lifelong ambition to play this one particular hole at the Pebble Beach golf course in California. He had seen the professional golfers on TV drive the ball out over this vast expanse of water onto a small green that is on a spit of land that juts out off the coast.
The problem was that teeing off over a water hazard was something he had tried hundreds of times before without any success. His ball always fell short into the water. Because of this he never used a new ball on this kind of hole. He always picked out one that had a cut or a nick, since it would end up being lost.
Finally he went to Pebble Beach to try the famous course. When he came to the famous water hole he teed up an old, nicked up ball and said a silent prayer, “God, just help me to clear the water and make it onto the green.” Before he hit his tee shot, a powerful voice from above said, “WAIT… REPLACE THAT OLD BALL WITH A BRAND NEW BALL.”
He excitedly put a new ball onto the tee, convinced that the Lord was telling him that he was finally going to achieve his lifelong ambition.
As he stepped up to the tee again, the voice came down and said, “WAIT…STEP BACK… TAKE A PRACTICE SWING.” So he stepped back and took a strong practice swing.
The voice boomed out again, “LET ME SEE ANOTHER PRACTICE SWING.” He swung again.
Then the voice spoke out again. “PUT BACK THE OLD BALL.”
In the 12th chapter of Acts we see examples of powerful answered prayer, and we see that powerful answers sometimes surprise those who are praying. Let’s start with verses 1-4
1Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.
2And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
3When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
4When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.
The Herod mentioned here is Herod Agrippa the first. He was the Grandson of Herod the Great, who had been the king when Jesus was born, the one who had all of the male babies in Bethlehem killed. The James that he has put to death is the Apostle James, one of the sons of Zebedee. And now Herod is planning to kill Peter as well, after Passover.
But notice how the Jerusalem believers didn’t PANIC in the face of this growing persecution, they PRAYED!
5So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.
Here’s what one author says about the impact of prayer: “The first thing that happens when the church prays is that God hears. This is the heart of Biblical faith. Prayer is not about us but about a God who hears. Prayer works because God has promised to hear. God is a willing participant in our prayer. Prayer is not overcoming the reluctance of God. It is not persuading him to do something that he is unwilling to do.
It is enforcing His will upon the earth. If there is any reluctance to prayer, it is on our part, not God’s.”
So these believers weren’t begging God to set Peter free, they were declaring that he already WAS set free by the power of Jesus’ name! (verses 6-11)
6On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.
7And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and woke him up, saying, "Get up quickly" And his chains fell off his hands.
8And the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me."
9And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
10When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."
One commentary says, “Our churches today have many advantages over the first century church. We have more money, more buildings, and a freer government. We have padded chairs, air conditioning, sound systems, guitars and drums. But that first century church knew how to pray, when to pray, and what to pray for. They believed that prayer was a power that overruled all other powers!”
The funny thing is that even though these believers knew the power of prayer, they were actually surprised by how well it worked! Even Peter, who surely knew that they were praying for him, thinks he’s having a dream or a vision when the angel comes to set him free! And then he goes directly to where the prayer meeting is being held, and THEY have a hard time believing that their prayers have been answered so quickly and so completely: (verses 12-15)
12And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.
13When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer.
14When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate.
15They said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, "It is his angel."
I heard a story about a sleazy nightclub that was set to open on Main Street in a small town. Upon hearing the news, the local church in that town organized an all-night prayer meeting. The members of the church prayed passionately and asked God to stop the nightclub from opening. Within a few minutes of their prayer, lightning struck the nightclub, and it burned to the ground.
The club owner found out about the prayer meeting, and sued the church for destroying his property, but the church members denied any responsibility for the destruction of the club.
After hearing both sides of the case, the judge said, “Let me get this straight. It seems to me that what you’re saying is that this nightclub owner believes in the power of prayer, but the church doesn’t.”
So the believers at John Mark’s house were fervently praying for Peter’s release, but when he actually shows up they say, “No way! It can’t be him! It’s probably some sort of angel letting us know that our prayers are being heard.” Meanwhile Peter is left standing out in the cold! But verses 16 and 17 tell us:
16But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.
17But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison And he said, "Report these things to James and the brethren." Then he left and went to another place.
Sir Isaac Newton said that he could take his telescope and look millions and millions of miles into space. Then he added, "But when I lay it aside, go into my room, shut the door, and get down on my knees in earnest prayer, I see more of Heaven and feel closer to the Lord than if I were assisted by all the telescopes on earth."
It’s an amazing truth-----God listens to our prayers, and then He responds! That’s the promise of 1 John 5:14-15, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him."
And when God answers the prayers of the faithful, the whole world stands up and takes notice.
The answer to the prayers for Peter’s release definitely turned Herod’s world upside-down.
Look at verses 18 and 19:
18Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter.
19When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.
So Herod, who lost out on his attempts to gain popularity by killing off the leaders of the Christians, kills the guards who let Peter escape, then heads off to Caesarea, and has even bigger problems there!
20Now (Herod) was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king's chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king's country.
21On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them.
22The people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!"
23And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.
That’s another thing that happens when the church prays: Our opponents are defeated. Herod the great opponent of the church meets his fate right after the church had been praying. His nasty fate was a direct result of his arrogance. We don’t know what the church prayed. They might have prayed for Herod’s removal. They might have asked God to reveal his power to Herod. They surely would have asked God to bring an end to all of the mighty powers that were aligned against the church. Little did Herod know what he was dealing with when he took on a praying church! And because he was now gone, the church kept on growing (verses 24-25)
24But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.
C.H. Spurgeon once said, "Prayer pulls the rope down below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give only an occasional jerk at the rope. But he who communicates with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might."
That’s why Paul wrote in Colossians 4:2-4:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should”
That’s what we’re called to do as Christians; we’re supposed to devote ourselves to prayer! But sometimes, honestly, we don’t spend much time in prayer. I think that one reason why is that many of us have been disappointed by prayers from the past that didn’t seem to have been heard or answered. There’s something about that that’s significant in this crisis that the early church faced. James had been killed and Peter was arrested.
In all likelihood in their minds, Peter was about to face the same fate that James had. Now the church starts praying for Peter. No doubt they had prayed for James, too. And he had died. So they knew that not all prayers are answered in the way that we desire. But that’s God’s decision, not ours.
So they prayed for Peter anyway, despite what had happened to James. When we pray we don’t know that we are going to get what we ask for, in the exact way that we are expecting the answer to come. We pray knowing that the right answers will come from the very hand of God, even though the answers are not always what we are looking for; even though we know that it might sometimes feel like we didn’t get an answer at all.
The book of Acts is built around the power of God. And the power of God flows from the prayers of his people. Look at some of these examples of the praying church from throughout the book of Acts:
(Acts 1:24 NIV) Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen.”
(Acts 2:42 NIV) They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
(Acts 3:1 NIV) One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon.
(Acts 4:24 NIV) When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
(Acts 4:31 NIV) After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
(Acts 6:6 NIV) They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
(Acts 8:15 NIV) When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
(Acts 9:11 NIV) The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.
(Acts 9:40 NIV) Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha, get up" She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.
(Acts 10:2 NIV) He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
(Acts 10:4 NIV) Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.
(Acts 10:9 NIV) About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.
(Acts 13:3 NIV) So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
(Acts 14:23 NIV) Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
(Acts 16:13 NIV) On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.
(Acts 16:25 NIV) About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
(Acts 20:36 NIV) When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.
(Acts 21:5 NIV) But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.
(Acts 22:17 NIV) "When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance
(Acts 26:29 NIV) Paul replied, "Short time or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."
(Acts 27:29 NIV) Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.
(Acts 28:8 NIV) His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.
Those are just a few examples of the early church in prayer! That was their regular habit. And in case you were wondering, yes it’s true, we’re supposing to be continuing what they started!
Maybe you’re not sure how to pray. Maybe you’ve been discouraged because you feel as though some of your prayers weren’t answered. But prayer is as essential to our spiritual life as breathing is to our physical life.
And if you aren’t sure what to pray, then start with the simplest of prayers, “God help me.”
It is one thing to change your cultural or traditional identification it is another thing for others to accept that change. It was hard for Peter to accept that it was okay to go into a Gentiles home and offer them salvation but it was even harder to get his fellow leaders who did not witness it to do the same.
When I was born again my Roman Irish Catholic Grandmother was not happy for me, she thought I had joined a cult and was being brainwashed. My friends thought I was crazy and came against me hard. Unless you grew up in a Christian home when you were born again you probably experienced the same type of response.
Peter though was not dealing with unbelievers but people who believed like himself but just had been blinded like him to a false religious/cultural bias. Cultural traditions go into the very framework of who we are and changing that mindset often needs supernatural intervention. Just know that until it takes place you will be most likely rejected by family, friends, and even fellow believers. Some of you may be severely persecuted depending on your background. It would be nice to just keep it hidden until...., but the light of Christ shines without us saying anything and confrontation cannot be avoided.
Peter didn't have to bring it up because word already spread to the leaders in Jerusalem. So the moment he arrived they argued with him, saying "You visited uncircumcised men and ate with them!" They weren't having it they didn't want to hear that "God said," to them, God would never say such a thing. But, they did give Peter enough respect to eventually listen and Peter shared in order what took place. Once they heard it says in verse 18 "they became silent, then they glorified God, saying, "So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!"
Wow, what a quick change of events! God changed their hearts just like He did Peter's. So what can we learn from this? As our mind is renewed we need to be a willing vessel to help renew the minds of those around us. Knowing that initially, some truths are hard to swallow but if we persist in presenting them those who respect us enough will listen and open their hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit to change along with us.
God wants to advance His Kingdom and often in the way is false mindsets of traditions and cultural biases. Holy Spirit works first in changing the hearts of leaders through supernatural revelation where they come to grips with false thinking. As Truth is embraced and passed on to others, the highway of God is made straight and now the King of Glory can manifest His presence and transform the land.
Acts 1:8 says that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to empower the church to be witnesses to the innermost parts of the world. Yet, so far the message of Jesus had been spoken primarily to Jews alone. Even after the dispersion through persecution, the message went from Jews to other Jews wherever believers had scattered. It took some time for leadership to get beyond their cultural bias but now through Peter's experience with Cornelius, they accepted that salvation was for Gentiles as well.
We are introduced in Acts 11 to the city of Antioch, the capital of Syria, with an estimated population of 500,000, a multicultural city due to it being a commercial center. This city became the location to mobilize the church for world missions.
Initially, as has previously been the case ministry was geared towards the Jewish population which was around 25,000. The bible does say salvation is first to the jew but also to the Gentile (Rom. 1:16). This is not by rank it is by sequence. It came through a Jew to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. We as Gentiles don't need to become Jews we just need to be born again and enter the Kingdom of God where we are all part of the One New Man, Christ Jesus. In Acts 11:20 it says some Cypriot and Cyrenian men came to Antioch proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the Greeks. These were those who knew how to acquaint with Greeks and so we're ready to be used to build on what took place through Peter with Cornelius.
The result of their mission was that the hand of the Lord was with them and many Gentiles believed. We need God's hands if we are going to be able to advance ahead. The Lord's hand represents His five-fold gifting. We need the grace of each gift of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher in order as it says in Ephesians 4 to be equipped to do the work of the Lord in all of His fullness. Missional activity will bear little fruit if the workers aren't fully equipped. Antioch was called to be an equipping center, with a mix of diverse gifts and diverse cultures for world influence. It was unlike Jerusalem which was for the Jews led by Jews.
The Apostle Barnabus who was a Hellenist Jew was sent from Jerusalem to witness the work in Antioch. It says he was a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith. It is an honor to be known as a good man but we understand that in Christ it is the work of the Holy Spirit that makes us good not our own works. God is to get all the glory! Barnabus came and built on the work of grace that had been done and then he went and got Saul from Tarsus to join him in ministry in Antioch. Saul had been out of the scene for a while but now was the time for him to step into his call as an Apostle to the Gentiles. Tarsus his hometown was a place for him to grow in intimacy, learning the timing of God, Antioch was the place for training in his Apostolic call. Saul had spent his life around Jews and needed to learn how to relate with Gentiles so he could be sent to the nations.
It was at this place that disciples were first called Christians. It was initially a derogatory name but it stuck for there is nothing to be ashamed of regarding being known as followers of Christ. Yet we got to ask ourselves are we being good witnesses? Do we follow Christ every day, in every way? Have we asked for the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to be empowered witnesses? Christianity has a bad name in many unbelievers perspective because of hypocrisy, it won't be an excuse that will be accepted on judgment day, but yet we don't want to be the ones people point at for why they rejected Jesus Christ.
In Acts 11:27-30 it says that some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch to give warning of future severe famine. This is the first mention of prophets in the new testament and it shows the significance of the gift for preparing the church for what is ahead. The future will catch people off guard if people are not ready for it. God the Father wants His church to be prepared to be the answer to the problems that arise in the world. He wants the world to see Him when they are crying out for help. We are His life bearers, it is not just done by proclaiming His Word verbally but also through action by responding to people's needs.
1.) Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any cultural biases that are hindering you from fully answering His call.
2.) Be in an environment where you can receive the grace of all five-fold gifts so you can be equipped for service and mature in the complete image of Christ.
3.) Examine yourself regarding your witness of Christ to the world around you? How many disciples are you teaching from what you have been taught?
4.) Seek to be in tune with the word of Prophecy so you are prepared for what is ahead