We cannot impact everyone but we can impact someone, we cannot advance the kingdom everywhere but we can somewhere. As we go forth daily as vehicles of God we must remember who is at the wheel. When we let Him lead us it will bring much better results than when we lead and then ask Him to help us.
Paul and his team traveled from Macedonia to Thessalonica but they passed right by two major cities, not yet evangelized, why? These two cities had no Jewish synagogue. See, Paul had a strategy and that is what he would stick to unless the Holy Spirit said differently. His role was to establish a church in a territory and then move on to the next, Jews and Gentile God-Fearers already had knowledge of God. So when Paul would explain through prophecy in the old covenant that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah since they already had a foundation it would be much easier for them to accept and be quickly rooted in faith. Most of the Jews because of religious pride had a hard time but the God-fearers were the ones that accepted the message with open hearts.
In Thessalonica, it says some of the Jews and many of the God-fearers were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas. As usual, the Jews that rejected the message got jealous and stirred up trouble where a mob was formed and they dragged out Jason who was hosting Paul and Silas, saying "these trouble makers are here to turn this city upside down, acting contrary to Caesar's decrees, turning people to another King named Jesus!" The result was Paul and Silas had for their lives to a quieter less noticeable city called Berea.
The biggest enemy to the move of God is the spirit of legalism. Those who have been under legalism gain their worth and identity from their religious works. To say these things are unnecessary and that there is a better way is a direct attack against all that they have held dear. Most people when they learn that there is an easier, less burdensome way to follow God, will choose it. Those who are heavily invested in their religion though will feel threatened as they lose crowds which also means money and their prestigious positions in society. Those who are threatened respond with hostility.
Religious hostility is not just between Christianity and other religions it also can develop within. God is a builder and He is building from one generation to the next, it is all part of the restoration of the earth. He builds through Truth, so each move of God has certain truths that are highlighted for a period of time. These truths will bring changes. People don't like change and they become proud of what they accomplished. As Kingdom citizens, all glory should go to God, and we should be willing to move with God as He moves, no matter what changes come about. We should celebrate with each generation and support them as God does a new work in and through them to continue to build on what we have helped establish.
Sunday April 14th
Some questions in life seem to have easy answers, until we find out that life doesn’t always go as easy as we had hoped.
For instance, a man got a text message at work from his wife that said “windows frozen”.
So he texted back an easy answer to her problem, “pour some hot water on windows”.
Then he got back this reply – “Now computer doesn’t work at all.”
Even in the Bible there were times when things seemed easy and times when things seemed hard.
For example, in the first three verses of chapter 16 Paul picks up a helper who will be of great value to him on his missionary journeys:
1Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Easy, right? Since Timothy was half Jewish and half gentile, Paul made sure that Timothy got circumcised so that he could relate to the Jews as well as the gentiles. (Well, maybe that part wasn’t so easy for Timothy!) But now, as Paul and Timothy start on their journey, we see that even WHERE they are going is not necessarily going to be an easy decision:
4Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.
5So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
6They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;
7and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;
8and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
Paul and Timothy probably would’ve gone right into Asia to preach the gospel but the Holy Spirit FORBID them to speak the word there! And when they tried to go into Bithynia, Jesus wouldn’t permit them! Why not? Why is this process so hard?
Because God not only has a perfect will and a perfect plan for our lives, He also has perfect TIMING. Did God want to reach Asia and Bithynia with the Gospel? I’m sure that He did. But where did God want Paul and Timothy right now? That’s the important question. We find out in verse 9:
9A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
10When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
So God’s perfect plan for that moment was to take the gospel to Macedonia! We can’t be sure what would have happened if Paul had disobeyed God and tried to preach in Asia or Bithynia. It might have been okay or it might have been a disaster! What we CAN be sure of is that by obeying God’s voice and going to Macedonia, their team was certain to see God’s grace on their ministry.
11So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis;
12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.
13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
14A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
15And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
So, after obeying the Holy Spirit’s leading, Paul goes to the riverside and meets this woman, Lydia, who will end up being the starting point of the church in Philippi, and the Philippian church would end up being one of his greatest success stories. It’s easy to win people to Christ, right?
Sometimes, but immediately after this encounter comes an example of winning souls the hard way!
16It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.
17Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
I think it’s interesting to note that what this demon-possessed girl is saying is actually true! "These men ARE bond-servants of the Most High God, who ARE proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
Sometimes things that are demonic and cultish can have a thread of truth woven into them. That’s why we always need to examine the spirit behind something before we align ourselves with it.
But Paul is only going to listen to this for so long:
18She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.
Notice that Paul doesn’t belabor this or get into a big dialogue with the evil spirit, he just commands it to “come out” in the name of Jesus! We can’t be sure whether this girl ended up accepting Christ as her savior, but she was clearly delivered from demonic possession but the power of Jesus’ name. Easy, right?
19But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities,
20and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews,
21and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans."
22The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.
23When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely;
24and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Hmmm, not so easy now, is it? But Paul and Silas continue to act as though life is still easy-breezy:
25But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;
Wait, they were doing what? After being beaten and locked up in prison they were singing what?
Think about this question: When is God worthy of our praise? Is it when everything is going our way and our prayers are getting answered just the way we wanted them to?
God is worthy of our praise at all times. And look what happens when God’s people praise him in the midst of their trials and tribulations:
26and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.
That’s an unexpected turn of events, don’t you think? But it came as a direct result of God’s name being exalted, despite their circumstances!
Now, keep in mind that Paul’s ultimate goal is to save souls, and watch what happens next:
27When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
28But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!"
29And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,
30and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
31They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Would you say that the jailor’s salvation came easily? I mean think about it, this guy was practically begging to be saved!
But his salvation came at the price of the hardship that Paul and Silas had endured. If they weren’t beaten and imprisoned, then this man doesn’t get saved. Was it worth it for one man’s salvation?
Yes it was, but God had even more in store:
32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.
33And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
34And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
I want you to take note of this important truth. If the beating and the jailing of Paul and Silas had only resulted in one man’s salvation, it would have been worth it!
But often times, the salvation of one person becomes the starting point for the salvation of others, whether they are family members, friends, or associates. We saw that when Cornelius’ whole household got saved, spirit-filled and baptized, and we see it again here with this jailer’s family, his whole household.
You’ve probably never heard of a man named Edward Kimball. He was just a Sunday School teacher in a small town. But one of the young boys in his Sunday School class was named Dwight Moody. Edward Kimball introduced Dwight to Jesus and then Dwight, or D. L. Moody as he became known, preached the gospel to a man named Wilber Chapman, and Wilber Chapman preached the gospel to a man known as Billy Sunday.
Through Billy Sunday’s preaching, a man by the name of Mordecai Ham got saved. Then Mordecai Ham went to Charlotte, North Carolina and a high school boy by the name of Billy Graham heard him preach to good news of salvation and he received Jesus as his savior. Of course you know where the story goes from there.
Here’s the bottom line – If Edward Kimball isn’t faithful to teach his Sunday School class about Jesus, then how does Billy Graham get saved? And if Billy Graham doesn’t get saved, what happens to the 215 million people that Billy Graham reached through his crusades?
It kind of makes you want to teach Sunday School, doesn’t it? Well, let us know, we can sure use you!
In the final verses of this chapter, Paul has a few words for the folks that allowed him to be beaten and imprisoned:
35Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, "Release those men."
36And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, "The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace."
37But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out."
38The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans,
39and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.
40They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.
When Paul got saved back in Chapter 9, Jesus spoke over him, saying that Paul would be given the opportunity to speak before kings and other leaders. This episode is just one example of that.
You and I may never get the chance to speak to kings or magistrates. We may not get to share the gospel with the next Billy Graham. But we can share our faith in Christ with someone. It might be easy sometimes or it might be hard other times. But I promise you it will be worth it!
As long as you are trying to advance forward those who are not will try to keep you back. To advance means progress; development, improvement. Each generation is called by God to build on the previous generation, the problem that creates is the former often gets offended at the latter because of the changes made that seem to negate the work they established. Each level of a building goes higher and so instead of becoming jealous or offended, we should celebrate what the next generation is doing. They also must build with appreciation and respect because what they are doing wouldn't be possible if the previous generation didn't do their part. In order to advance generations must work through conflict or the restoration work of the Kingdom will be halted.
The theme of Acts 15 is conflict resolution. The issues between the Jewish and Gentile believers come to a head. We are going to see group conflict resolution and individual resolution. We will see that sometimes issues are resolved other times some people's personality differences are just too sharp and that it is best they move forward apart.
We have been seeing a pattern that when Paul would finish preaching and establishing the church in a territory that certain Jewish leaders would come and add that they must also follow the Jewish customs and laws. While back at their home base in Antioch some men from Judea came and taught that you must be circumcised to be saved. This is work based theology the opposite of what Paul had been teaching regarding being saved by grace. This is why Paul wrote the book of Galatians to refute this false teaching. Here it says Paul and Barnabus got in a serious argument and it was arranged for them to go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to settle this debate.
We see that the council at Jerusalem were the ones allowing these leaders to follow the work of Paul in these foreign territories, so they themselves were not in agreement with what Paul had been teaching. Initially, it says they were welcomed by the church when they arrived in Jerusalem but some from the party of the Pharisees said, "it is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!" So, they were now accepting Christianity, they probably had no choice since it had grown numerically, and they feared to lose their jobs. Yet, they were only going to go so far! The sacrifices they had made in obedience to their traditions must be followed by all who call on the name of God or they would oppose them.
Pride, blinds! People cannot hear the truth when it contradicts what they are proud of. People will accept Christ as Savior but not make Him Lord if it means rejecting cultural and religious traditions. If Jesus is Lord then everything must be brought to His feet in surrender. We must follow Him in all of His ways. Not that all we do is completely wrong but we must be willing to make necessary adjustments. All work oriented religious traditions must be nailed to the cross. Our standard must be the Word of God, not the traditions that have passed down to us. Some traditions God has allowed for a season but in the process of advancement, He will eventually say "let it go!"
The Jerusalem Council began and after much debate, Peter stood up and defended the work done amongst the Gentiles. Peter was called to the Jews and had wrestled previously with the idea of Gentile conversion. God had intervened through giving Peter a vision and having him witness Cornelius and his household baptized of the Holy Spirit. He was the most highly respected of the Apostles and so was key to favorable development of Jews towards Gentiles. Peter silenced the group and now they gave their ears to Paul and Barnabus as they shared the testimonies of their first missionary journey to Galatia. He spoke of the promise from Amos 9:11-12 and Isaiah 45:21 of the promise that God made that Gentiles will seek the Lord. He wisely mixed experience with scripture to verify that God was the one working through Him.
The best method of conflict resolution when differences arise regarding church practices is does it line up with scripture? It is sad that the church is so divided about issues that are scripturally based. We should be in agreement regarding the things of the world not being practiced in the church but sadly most disagreements come from how we interpret scripture, such as with grace and the law.
The Apostles and elders that were so divided suddenly through the hand of God became united and they decided that the only requirements for Gentiles would be that they did not eat meat offered to idols and abstained from sexual immoralities. The hundreds of Jewish laws were brought down to two. These two were what was highlighted because of the pagan idolatrous practices that would be offensive to God who is a jealous God and hates idolatry.
The focus for Gentiles would not be what not to do but what Christ has done. The complexity of the law was not required they could now just enjoy the simplicity of relationship with Jesus who through faith in Him changes us supernaturally from the inside out.
The apostles and elders then selected leaders to accompany Paul and Barnabus to support the work they were doing and witness it firsthand. Letters were written by the council to take with them to have read at the Gentile churches of what they established so that the people would no longer be deceived. As the churches received this message they rejoiced of the freedom they could now enjoy.
The chapter ends with additional conflict that we will deal with in the next devotion.
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
Sunday February 24th
People are always trying out new kinds of diets. One diet I heard about recently has really proven to be quite successful. It’s called the Naked Diet. The idea is that before you start eating your meal you take off all of your clothes. It works really well because usually you can only eat a few bites of food before they throw you out of the restaurant.
In Acts chapter 10 God makes a change to Peter’s diet too.
You see, Peter knew that God had called the people of Israel to have a special relationship with Him. The Jewish people were set apart to be His chosen people. God had entrusted them with His Word so that they could tell the rest of the world about Him, and through them all of the nations of the world would be blessed. But somewhere along the way the Jewish people had forgotten their original purpose. Instead of proclaiming God to the rest of the world they had actually created barriers between themselves and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, they had come to believe that salvation was not just “of the Jews”, but also just “for the Jews.”
The Apostle Peter, as a devout Jewish believer, had been taught not to have anything to do with Gentiles.
He had been told that if he even touched one accidentally on the street he would have to go home and wash, because contact with Gentiles made him “unclean”. It’s easy to see that this attitude would hinder the spread of the gospel. Large areas of the world would have been written off as being beyond the grace of God.
But at the end of chapter 9 Peter had been drawn by the Holy Spirit to the city of Joppa and to the house of Simon the tanner. God had begun to lead Peter away from this man-made legalist attitude. While God was drawing Peter away from this cultural prejudice, He was drawing another man, a gentile, toward Peter and ultimately toward Jesus.
Let’s read verses 1-8:
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, (2) a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” (4) And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” (5) So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (5) Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. (6) He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (7) And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. (8) So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
Cornelius was a military man. He was a centurion, an officer who commanded a group of about 100 soldiers.
Cornelius is portrayed as a godly man. We are told that he is “devout”. He knows that there is a god and he is seeking him. We are also told that he “fears God” – meaning that he lived his life as if he was answerable to God. And we are also told that he was a generous man, one who gave to those in need. And we also see that he is a praying man.
Here is a man that is religious and sincere, but yet he isn’t saved because he doesn’t yet know about Jesus.
That’s going to be Peter’s job.
The angel who appears to Cornelius tells him to send down to Joppa for a man named Peter who is staying in the house of Simon the tanner. God wanted to accomplish two things here at the same time:
1. Get Cornelius saved.
2. Correct Peter’s attitudes about the gentiles.
So watch what God does in verses 9-16:
“The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. (10)Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance (11) and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. (12) In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. (13) And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”(14) But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” (15) And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (16) This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.”
Peter’s vision was of a sheet lowered from heaven, containing various kinds of animals, some clean and unclean, according to the law of Moses. You might wonder why, if Peter was so horrified at the thought of killing and eating an “unclean” animal that he didn’t just pick a “clean” animal from among the ones on the sheet! Because, to Peter the mixing of the “clean” with the “unclean” animals would have made all of the animals “unclean”. Therefore Peter refuses to kill or eat any of them.
Peter’s response to God’s command to kill and eat these animals was, “Not, so Lord; for I have never eaten anything that was common or unclean” (v. 14). Peter is proud of the fact that he had never done certain things that he considered wrong. As Christians we sometimes define ourselves by the things that we don’t do. It isn’t wrong that there are things that we don’t do. But it’s wrong to define our faith based on what we refrain from doing. And the truth is that the world isn’t impressed by people who live LESS of life, who are all about what NOT to do. People are drawn to us as Christians because we are able to DO things, that is, to live a life that reflects the joy and abundance that Jesus brings.
The Lord’s response to Peter in this vision is, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (v. 15). It will soon become obvious to Peter that these words had a far greater meaning than simply what he was and was not allowed to eat.
What God was showing Peter was to no longer regard certain people as unclean. God was revealing to him that all forgiven sinners are to be accepted into the church, including Gentiles. The four corners of the sheet correspond to the four points of the compass – north, south, east and west; indicating all of the people who make up the world.
Peter had believed up to this point that it was unlawful for him to associate with Gentiles. Actually it wasn’t Old Testament law that prohibited such association, it was only unlawful according to Jewish customs and practice.
Cornelius was ready to be saved. He was seeking God.
All God had to do was find someone to share the gospel with him. It seems like it was harder to get Peter ready to witness than it was to get Cornelius ready to listen. I wonder if that’s still true in our world today. Are there more people ready to listen than there are people ready to tell them about God?
While Peter was wondering what in the world God was trying to tell him, the three men sent by Cornelius came up to the gate to see if Peter was there. (verses 17-22)
“Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. (18) And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. (19) While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. (20) Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” (21) Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” (22) And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” (23) Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”
While Peter was praying and receiving his vision, the men from Cornelius were approaching his house. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him that the men were looking for him and that he must not hesitate to go with to go with them.
Now let’s see what happens in verses 24-33
“And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. (25) As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. (26) But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (27) And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. (28) Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (29) Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?” (30) So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, (31) and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. (32) Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ (33) So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
God waited until Peter and his friends actually got to Cornelius’ house before He revealed what He was going to do there. Let’s look at verses 34-43
34Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,
35but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.
36"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)--
37you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed.
38"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
39"We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.
40"God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible,
41not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
42"And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.
43"Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins."
When Peter got to Cornelius’ house he preached to these Gentiles about how Jesus had lived and died, and risen from the dead. But I don’t think that Peter and his Jewish companions had any idea what God was about to do. Peter was simply teaching these Gentiles about Jesus because he knew God had sent him there. If he was expecting some kind of a response, it was possibly that these Gentiles would decide to convert to Judaism and then they would be able to accept the Jewish Messiah, Jesus.
But before Peter even finished speaking, God moved!
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.
45All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
46For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered,
47"Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"
48And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius’ whole family, just as they were - Gentiles!
They were speaking in tongues and praising God – as Gentiles!
Peter and his Jewish companions were amazed.
Because God wasn’t doing things the way that they expected Him to!
But Peter finally gets it! He recognizes that God has truly touched these people and poured out His Spirit on them. God wasn’t keeping salvation for only the Jews – He wanted the Gentiles to get saved too!
Peter’s vision changed the world. But it began by changing just one man. Peter’s attitude was changed. God had put him on a new diet.
God changed how Peter thought about unbelievers, and maybe he wants to change us too.
Because the problem is that we can be just as selective about those with whom we are willing to share the gospel as Peter was. Do we see those around us as potential believers or do we view them as unreachable? Are there co-workers and neighbors, and family members that we have written off as impossible to reach for the kingdom of Christ?
Do we think of alcoholics, drug addicts, ex-cons and homeless people as “unclean”?
Do we see homosexuals and transgender people as worthy of God’s judgment but not His mercy?
Keep this in mind – If Peter couldn’t get over his preconceived ideas about Gentiles being unclean –
People to be avoided rather than embraced – then Cornelius and his whole family would have never known about Jesus!
Who is depending on you to get out of your comfort zone and reach into their world to let them know about the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus?
That’s what Peter had to do in order to reach Cornelius. He left his comfortable place in Joppa, AND his comfortable set of beliefs, in order to enter into another person’s world with the love of God.
And that choice changed everything!
According to a legend, when Jesus returned to heaven following resurrection, the angels gathered around Him. Finally Gabriel spoke: “Master, you suffered so terribly down there. Does the world know you now, and understand the reason for your sacrifice?” “No,” Jesus answered, “Right now only a small handful of people from Galilee know what I did for them.” “Then how will everyone else know?” Gabriel asked. “Peter, James, John, and a few others will spread the Good News. They’ll tell others, who will tell others, who will tell others, until the whole world knows.” “Master,” Gabriel asked, “What’s Plan B?” Jesus replied, “There is no Plan B!”