Acts 12:25 – 13:52
Earlier with the church at Antioch we saw the first establishment of a new church – the first church-plant – outside of Jerusalem & Judea.
And now we see this new church taking the initiative to send out missionaries to establish new churches.
The church is a sending church, because the church is a sent church; and Christians are those who have been sent by God – reflecting God’s own sending of his son to seek and save the lost; Christians in a similar way are sent out into the world to reflect the Saving love of Jesus Christ to a lost & dying world.
And because Christians have been sent, they send and they go.
Here they are sent out in an official capacity as formal missionaries;
not everyone is sent in this official formal capacity but all Christians have been sent by God.
Some Christians go in a special role, to a special place, to do that; but all Christians are on a mission from God: whether they go off to far away places or whether they do that right where they are.
Some Christians are sent; and others are senders; but all have the responsibility to reach the lost wherever they are.
and the church is getting that – and they are taking up that call.
Previously, the missionary expansion of the church had been not freely chosen but forced – they had been forced outward out of Jerusalem as a result of fleeing persecution – and they took advantage of that opportunity to be missionaries but they hadn’t been sent as a result of a deliberate decision;
And Peter had gone to Cornelius but he had been directed by God every step of the way through visions. Almost as if he had to be dragged along by God.
But now, rather than being forced out (as in the case of the persecution), or dragged out (as in Peter’s case); now they are being sent out and sending out;
what accounts for the change?
Possibly one factor is that they know they only exist because missionaries came to them! And so they know there are others out there who can only come to Christ if they who have been reached, now become those who are sent, to the unreached, so that the unreached can be reached for Christ.
And, I hope that we as a church can become that type of church – we ourselves are a church-plant – that is still getting established – and we are only where we are and we will only be where we’ll be as a result of people from the outside investing in us and supporting us; and so I hope and pray that down the road as we get more fully established and grow in our resources, we don’t use those resources only for ourselves; but remembering that we exist only because others poured out their resources into us, that we would be looking for opportunities to pour out our resources into reaching others and establishing other churches that can reach others.
Other thing that accounts for this change: Prayer: they are praying to know the will of God, and part of the will of God for the church is missions.
“We will never see great advances in the cause of the gospel without first seeing the church on its knees in prayer before the Lord… Prayer drove this church to missions…”
Because in prayer, the church finds the will of God; and it becomes sensitive to the lost world around it and to God’s desire to reach the lost.
“Missions is the heart of God… To not have a heart for missions is the same as not having a heart for Jesus, because that is what brought him into the world and what drove him to the cross.”
And we see in this instance that prayer is connected to fasting.
probably as a help towards being especially focused on prayer: you can forget to pray fairly easily, but when you’re hungry you don’t forget that as easily; and the presence of hunger would be a reminder to remain focused on praying over this significant matter.
And it could be either just the leaders specifically mentioned, or the whole congregation, that is fasting and praying. Maybe this is a good thing to remember when we face significant decisions as a church.
But either way, it is clear that the church is involved in their sending. The call originates from God – v2 the holy Spirit sets apart Barnabas and Saul for the work which He has called them to;
but it is discerned by the church.
call of God upon them is discerned not only individually & internally by those who go, but corporately & externally by those who send those who go.
And so these individuals don’t just take it upon themselves to go but they are commissioned – in the laying on of hands – and sent and supported by the church local church.
And it’s my hope and prayer that people in this church will sense the call of the Holy Spirit to go; and that the church would recognize that calling and support and send them.
And it’s pretty immediately that they are sent to the front lines of spiritual battle – when they are sent for by a high-standing Roman official, Sergius Paulus, who wants to hear the word of God – v7.
But this opportunity and inroad is met by opposition from evil forces – Satanic and Magical powers – personified in Bar-Jesus (later called Elymas), v6 – a Jewish sorcerer – where right away we’re clued in that something is wrong with the picture because, according to the OT, “Jewish” and “sorcerer” don’t belong together – and so he’s called a false prophet.
And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the gospel encounter popular-magical beliefs. And likewise, it isn’t the first time it’s been linked to wickedness (in fact, here the link goes even further than run-of-the-mill wickedness – it is called Satanic); His name, “bar-Jesus” means son of Jesus – but he is called by Paul “son of the devil” and an enemy of everything that is right.
Second, it isn’t the first time magic has been linked to the desire for material gain – as here certainly part of what’s motivating Elymas’ opposition – as he is employed as the personal attendant of Sergius Paulus and is certainly thinking about the implications for his livelihood.
Third: it isn’t the first time that it’s been shown to be absolutely powerless when face-to-face with the power of Jesus Christ risen Lord and Savior.
Now, when I say “magic” I don’t mean slight-of-hand tricks – I don’t believe those are satanic and I’m not trying to say that it’s wrong for Christians to play “pick-a-card, any-card” games.
But: anything that we look to for divine power, guidance, wisdom, apart from the gospel. superstitions; astrologers; fortune-tellers; horoscopes; these are things that Christians should not put any faith in; because in the least they are worthless and powerless and offer the Christian who has faith in God’s word and in God’s Son nothing.
but at worst they are Satanic tools used to lead people away from the truth and from a confident faith in the one true God who is our personal Shepherd and intimate friend and loving Father.
And for Sergius Paulus, this sorcerer/magician is only an obstacle to faith – certainly not a help to it; he is a source of spiritual oppression – seeking to keep Sergius Paulus in the dark whereas Paul and Barnabas are trying to show him the light – and so he is put in darkness (blinded) –
and this source of spiritual oppression, this obstacle to the gospel, when confronted with the gospel, is removed by the power of the gospel; and because of the power of the gospel, deliverance comes to those who are in spiritual darkness and oppression.
And, if you have felt to be in spiritual oppression, with obstacles in your way seeming to keep you from freedom and light and truth and power; the gospel can free you from that; Jesus Christ can free you from that by the power of his resurrection and victory over death – there is no obstacle that can stand in the way of faith for those who truly seek Christ in humility and sincerity.
Because the same word of God that brought Sergius Pualus to faith, is available to us now, and in that word we find Jesus.
It isn’t the supernatural display of power alone that brought Sergius Paulus to faith – that got his attention – but the thing that amazed him, and the thing that caused him to believe – v12 “he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching of the Lord.”
In the word of God is power, because in the word of God is the voice of God which speaks the truth of the gospel of God – the person and work of Jesus – and that same word is available to us today.
And we have an example of the word which Paul preached in the next section – vv13-41.
And the first thing that we notice here is how similar this sermon is to Peter’s Pentecost sermon, and also there are similarities to Stephen’s sermon before he is killed – and remember, who was present at Stephen’s death and approving of his murder?
Saul. And it’s possible – we don’t know – but it’s possible that Saul was present to hear Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.
And, you have to wonder if at that time, he was listening to those words and they were pricking his mind and heart and conscience more than he would admit;
And, the very same words that had previously driven him to raging hatred and opposition, he was now preaching.
This is the turn-around that the gospel can create in a life. A life dead-set in opposition against God, can become a life lived in passionate service of him.
And, words or actions that from our perspective seem to only harden a soul just might be pricking a mind and heart and conscience more than we can see; and so we shouldn’t give up despair in our witness when our efforts seem to be accomplishing little, nothing, or the very opposite of what we’d hope.
God’s faithfulness; and that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that he has been planning for his people.
Notice: Paul’s emphasis is on God’s goodness, God’s initiative, God’s faithfulness; God’s gracious action to his people.
God is the subject of nearly all the verbs: v17 – God chose their ancestors; God made them prosper; God led them with his mighty power;
v18 – In the wilderness either, God endured them with patience or cared for them (unclear what the exact meaning there is but in context it’s the same – because in the wilderness we saw Israel’s repeated unbelief in contrast to God’s provision to and patience with them.
v19 God overthrew their enemies; God gave the land to his people as their inheritance.
And an inheritance is something you receive, not something you work for.
In all of this, they are recipients of God’s gracious action & initiative. The history between God and his people is a history of God’s goodness and faithfulness – making promises and fulfilling them.
And, the fulfillment of the promises is where Paul’s sermon leads.
God has been faithful to them. And that faithfulness moves towards something – the fulfillment of all that faithfulness – where it was always intended to lead – is the coming of Jesus the promised Messiah, through which God has been faithful to fulfill the deepest of his promises to his people.
In other words, Jesus didn’t just pop out of nowhere, as if he were a totally new completely unprecedented direction in God’s plan, but he was the fulfillment of God’s purposes that had begun so long ago.
Paul shows that God’s promises weren’t ultimately fulfilled in the OT; and so, if God is faithful, where do we look to find the fulfillment of those promises? And the answer is: to Christ.
v22 – David was the King God gave to his people – a man after God’s own heart – but v23 – David pointed to Jesus: “from David’s descendants God brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.”
And that’s really the key: because although David was a partial and provisional fulfillment of God’s promises, he couldn’t be the ultimate fulfillment – because (v36) he died, and his body decayed in the ground just like every other human; he had no eternal throne; and so – v34 – the blessings promised to David were yet to be fulfilled; but v37 – “But the one whom God raised form the dead did not see decay.”
In Jesus was a true ultimate deliverer and conquerer and savior and eternal King.
And so, v38 – “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.
Jesus is the true savior who brings full forgiveness and real deliverance from sin.
Through him all your sins are forgiven, and through him you are set free from every sin. Forgiveness; deliverance.
And if that’s true, then – our response – v40 – “Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you!” that being, v41 – that you would not be among those who don’t believe the great thing God has done even if someone told you.
Don’t miss out on the wonderful thing God has done through Jesus. Unfortunately, many of Paul’s initial audience did – even though Christ was all that their history pointed towards, they missed the fulfillment of God’s faithfulness.
This begins the general pattern of Paul’s ministry, is that he would begin by Preaching in Synagogue (to Jews and Gentiles who worship God); some would believe but he would at the same time face rejection by Jews who didn’t believe, and then he would & move on to Gentiles.
And we see that basic pattern begin right here in chapter 13.
And that is where Paul’s principle of “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” comes from – which he articulates most clearly in his letter to the Romans, but we see the initial explanation of that here in v46 – “We had to speak the Word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”
“Since Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jewish nation, then Jewish people have a prior right to hear what God has done for them.” But the rejection by many Jews opens up a new invitation to those whom those promises weren’t initially directed towards.
And then he quotes from Isaiah 49:6 – “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
And this was spoken of about Jesus after his birth by Simeon; he is the one who is the light to the Gentiles; and he commissioned his apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
And so in bringing in the Gentiles, we see the original intention of God – but even more of his grace by allowing his promises to be fulfilled by those whom they weren’t initially given to.
Because as Paul will explain in his letter to the Romans, Not all Israel is true Israel – being of physical descent gives them a priority to hear the gospel message, but if they don’t receive it in faith then physical descent benefits them nothing – Not all Israel is true Israel – but only those who receive the fulfillment and substance of all God’s promises Messiah by faith; and, Gentiles who have faith become true Israel – they are added in – so that there is one, and only one, people of God.
This was always the plan – to add Gentiles in – and so this isn’t a plan b or a second separate group of God’s people – but those who receive the promises just the same.
And this is why Jesus came, and why Jesus sent out his apostles – and this will be the focus of the rest of the book of Acts – the gospel going further and further out – to the ends of the earth— being embraced by some Jewish people and rejected by others, and then being embraced by Gentiles to make 1 people of God who have faith in Jesus the Messiah.
To bring to faith all who God appoints to eternal life.
These are the words of v48 – and one of many statements in Acts – we haven’t addressed some of them that we’ve seen – but one of many statements in Acts that ascribes personal faith & resulting eternal life to God’s granting or appointing.
In other words, those who come to faith, are those to whom God gives faith.
Those who reject the gospel do it deliberately, by their own deliberate choice: v46 “since you reject the gospel and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life…”
but those who embrace it, realize it is only God’s grace that enables them to do so. Apart from that divine enabling, we would have been among those who rejected the gospel’s offer.
Calvin: “The whole human race is blind and stubborn, and those faults remain fixed in our nature until they are corrected by the grace of the Spirit, and that comes only from election.”
And some worry that this means that they need to figure out first if they are elect or appointed to life before they can believe; but that’s backwards: the gospel goes for to all people; all nations; and all are called to believe; and those who are enabled to believe – truly believe -then have assurance and confidence that that faith is a gift from God. Not based on human merit but the result of his grace.
And where true faith is given; and where true faith is present, it can be assured that that is an irrevocable gift;
And that is our confidence in taking up this mission to bring the gospel to new people and new places – because we know that there are those out there whom God has chosen and will give faith – when they hear the good news brought by God’s messengers; apart from that reality we have no confidence that our message will be met with faith.
But with that confidence, we can proclaim Christ boldly, confidently, gladly; send & go; and we can rejoice in our own salvation knowing that it is pure grace – we left to ourselves would have only persisted in blindness, rebellion, and unbelief; but the grace of God opened our eyes; enlightened our minds; softened our hearts, so that we could belief in the fulfillment of all God’s promises: Jesus.