Week 7 (5.22.2016)
Ground Work: Read: Acts 13:13-52
Paul and Barnabas visited Antioch of Pisidia (in Asia Minor or Turkey. This is a different city than Antioch in Syria) and Paul’s sermon in the Jewish synagogue caused a great stir among the citizens. Paul recounted the history of God’s activity in and through various Jewish leaders. It all begins with God: The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors…(v. 17). Beginning with the period of bondage in Egypt, God’s deliverance and forty year wilderness adventure, the Jews were finally given a homeland in Canaan which they occupied for four hundred and fifty years. During those years God gave the Jews judges and then a king following their outcry. First, King Saul then King David from whom was born an heir named Jesus the Savior.
In such a few sentences, Paul laid out the salvation history through the Jews to one of their own named Jesus. He retold the story of the trial, sentencing, death, resurrection as well as the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection. Paul also used the Hebrew Scriptures to confirm what he was preaching: Acts 13:33 quotes Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:34 quotes Isaiah 55:3; Acts 13:35 quotes Psalm 16:10; Acts 13:36 quotes 1 Kings 2:10; Acts 13:38 quotes Jeremiah 31:34; Acts 13:39 quotes Isaiah 53:11; Acts 13:39 quotes Isaiah 53:11 and Acts 13:41 quotes Habakkuk 1:5. It is clear that Paul knew the Old Testament and the fulfillment of these scriptures in the life of Jesus. Paul built a case by using their own story to show who Jesus is so that they may come to believe and follow.
While it is possible to get lost in the story and quit reading, there is a gem in the center of the story: Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39). Paul drives home the point that in Jesus, unlike the law of Moses, there is the forgiveness of sin. If you are looking to be set free from the bondage of sin, look no further than Jesus.
When Paul finished speaking, they urged Paul and Barnabas to return and speak some more on the next sabbath. Some of the people wanted to keep the conversation going so they followed them. The Spirit was working and the mood was receptive and positive toward the message.
The synagogue also included some non-Jewish God fearers (Acts 13:16, 26). These were spiritually open and receptive gentiles who as yet had not converted to Judaism. Somehow Paul recognized them in the gathering and named them so as to include them in his message. God was speaking to these hungry hearts as well.
On the following sabbath, a conflict ensued with the Jews which led to Paul’s expulsion together with Barnabas from the city. The two returned later and appointed elders for the community there. Antioch in Pisidia is not mentioned by name in relation to Paul’s other missionary journeys, but he did visit the region in both his second and his third journeys. Paul’s persecutions and sufferings at Antioch are spoken of in 2 Timothy 3:11.
Why did the wind of receptivity and excitement change from one week to the next? While God works through people, human ego which is all about “me” bears the fruit of the ego or flesh (see Galatians 6:19-21). The ego will only use “I” statements: I want, I need, I deserve, etc. The ego is the driving force behind individualism verses the importance of the community, the family, our interconnectedness in this world. The reason the winds changed in Antioch was because of jealousy (Acts 13:45). Some of the Jews were jealous that Paul’s message was the talk of the whole city. Ego.
Changed circumstances often lead to new discoveries. When the Jews out of their jealousy rejected the message of Paul and Barnabas, they pivoted and found a new direction: they turned the message over to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). This is a dramatic shift. It requires a person to step back, gain a new perspective in order to see new things or new possibilities. Jesus was Jewish and ministered to Jews. His disciples or followers were Jews. This was the tradition of Abraham. Messiah was to be Jewish and a hope for the nation.
Then Paul and Barnabas bold spoke and said: For so the Lord had commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that they may bring salvation to the ends of the earth,’” (Acts 13:47). This quote comes from Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). There was an understream of thought in the Hebrew Scriptures that opened the door to Gentiles like the Moabite woman Ruth, the Great Grandmother of Jesus (Matthew 1:5-6).
As a result the Gentiles received the message about Jesus with great joy. When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers, (Acts 13:48). The jealous Jewish leaders stirred up a mess as only a strong willed ego can do and drove Paul, Barnabas and Mark out of the city. They even did a symbolic action of rejection by shaking the dust off their feet (Acts 13:51; see Luke 10:10-11).
A closing comment on a previous reading from Acts 13:2-3. It was a direct speech of the Holy Spirit which said that Saul and Barnabas had been selected or chosen for a special mission of God. This is a prophetic word spoken by one of the prophets in the house church in Antioch. God works through people and speaks God’s word through people.
Secondly, after prayer and fasting they commissioned them with the laying on of hands and sent them on their way. Paul prayed and fasted during the three days following the blinding vision of the Lord as he tried to understand what was happening to him (Acts 9:9). Paul and Barnabas appointed leaders in the churches in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia following prayer and fasting (Acts 14:21-23). The prophetess Anna saw the baby Jesus in the temple as a woman who prayed and fasted night and day (Luke 2:36-38).
We find strength, courage, confidence and the power love when we pray. Paul reminds us: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert (eyes wide open) in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, (Colossians 4:2-3). The Holy Spirit was the power driving the mission of Paul and Barnabas which was fueled by the prayers of the church. It begins with God (the Holy Spirit) and God works through people (the prayers of the church and the work of Paul and Barnabas).
Key Scripture describing the importance of prayer:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:14-21).
- What grabbed your attention as your read today’s reading?
- What is God saying to you as you read today’s reading from this booklet?
- Who do you know that could use a big dose of the love and grace of Jesus today?
- What did you take away from the readings on prayer? If you are convinced that God works through prayer, how can we as a church strengthen our prayer life?