Introduction: When Saul/Paul met God on the road to Damascus and God identified Himself as Jesus, his thinking and believing was radically reoriented. As he sat in blindness, a man named Ananias came to him and gave a reason for what had happened. He shared with Paul that God had called him to be a chosen instument to carry His name before the Gentiles. (Acts 9:15) That call was confirmed by believers who were fasting and praying in the church at Antioch. Chapter 13 begins a further expansion of the gospel to far reaching places in the ancient world. The timing of that God reveals to us that He will not only unfold the “What?” but the “When?” in our lives.
Acts 13:4-12 Cyprus
- In this first phase as a missionary, God uses Paul’s Jewish background to confront the Jewish sorcerer Elymas and his Roman background to speak with the Roman proconsul.
- Luke highlights that Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, not because he was not present before this, but to remind us that God equips and empowers those He calls.
- Elymas opposed the gospel because it threatened his place of power as an “advisor” to the proconsul.
- The Holy Spirit came in a strong way to empower Paul to stand against the evil present in Elymas.
- Elymas was called “Bar-Jesus” which would mean son of Jesus. Jesus was a popular name at the time.
- Paul in effect says, “You call yourself son of Jesus but you are a son of Satan because you oppose the work of God!”
- Paul brings blindness to Elymas to emphasize the darkness of his spiritual condition, a vivid replay of what had previously happened to Saul/Paul.
- Sergius Paulus saw the power of the God Paul professed and believed.
Key Point: This chapter begins with Saul being called “Saul” by Luke. After the powerful display of the Spirit’s power on Cyprus, “Saul” goes from being mentioned second as a companion of Barnabas to being mentioned first as “Paul and his companions” as the journey continues. Luke uses this name change device to indicate a leadership –perhaps even an identity shift.
Acts 13: 13-52 Pisidian Antioch
- Since there are no stories from Luke about church plantings in Perga in the province of Pamphylia, scholars speculate that Paul may have contracted a serious illness here that he described later in Galatians as “a thorn in his flesh.”
- Pamphylia was known for virulent forms of malaria and some surmise that that might have been the recurring ailment that tormented him from then on.
- To travel to the higher elevation and cooler temperatures of Pisidian Antioch would have been a good move for one recovering from this particular illness.
- Another discouraging circumstance was that John Mark decided to leave the mission team and return home–this move becomes a bone of contention between Barnabas and Paul in later times.
Paul’s first sermon:
- rooted in the Scriptures with which the Jews were very familiar.
- highlighted as unfolding providence of God to bring forth the Savior Jesus. (vs. 23)
- warning that others failed to recognize Him as Savior. (vs. 27)
- His “Godness” was proved by the resurrection. He was raised from the dead and there are many witnesses –He did not see decay as prophesied by David. (vs. 30, 37)
- Therefore: Run to Jesus–He saves from sin that we cannot save ourselves from! Run to Jesus –He justifies (declares you righteous forever) –the law cannot do that. Run to Jesus–there is grace with Him. Run to Jesus–He is not a God only of the past or only of the Jews–He has established a new covenant open to all people!
- Outcome: Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak again–the attactiveness of this gospel of freedom and forgiveness brought the whole city–many Gentiles came to listen! The popularity of this gospel made the Jews jealous–they opposed the gospel.
- Paul and Barnabas were not deterred by the rejection, rather they took it as a sign from the Spirit that it was time to move on.
Key Point: Planted right in the middle of this wonderful evangelistic story where the gospel is being shared and offered to all who will receive it, Luke introduces a verse that is a statement of God’s sovereign work of election, “all who were appointed to eternal life believed.” (verse 48)
Many would ask, if God already knows who will be saved, why bother to evangelize and share the gospel? The answer is, God not only appoints the ends–He appoints the means to those ends. Remember, it is the express will–the commission of Jesus to go and share His offer of salvation– to go and witness. Because, it is through the means of witnessing that the Spirit will move over dead hearts and awaken them to receive rather than to reject Jesus.
It was in the joy of that great truth that Paul and Barnabas could move on to the next city–knowing that what the Spirit began in Pisidian Antioch, He would continue.
- When you listen to Paul’s sermon, do you find your heart responsive to the truths about Jesus?
- When you hear the free offer of grace and forgiveness does your heart rise up in gratefulness and wonder?
- When you hear the Word of God, are you glad and desire to honor the gift of the Word in your life? (verse 48)
Acts 14: 1-7 In Iconium
- Paul repeats the pattern he began in Pisidian Antioch and visits the synagogue to present the Gospel to the Jews worshipping there.
- Luke seems to suggest that the evidence of strong reaction–either reception or rejection is a sign that the gospel has been preached accurately. The Spirit is working to initiate one response of the other.
- Spirit was also evident in confirming miracles that authenticated the message of Paul.
- Outcome: Had to flee this city
Acts 14:8-20 Lystra
- In Iconium Paul had the problem of people being to ready to reject the message–in Lystra the opposite reaction met the missionaries–people were too eager to embrace the message and the messengers!
- Paul’s healing of the cripple man in Lystra led the citizens to believe that they had once again been visited by Zeus and Hermes.
- Since they had been judged as unreceptive during the last visit from the gods–these people sought to correct their previous flaw. They wanted to “save themselves” through their efforts of being good hosts.
- Paul was deeply grieved and repulsed when he realized that the citizens were not receiving Christ but just making more god substitutes. He pled with them to repent of their idolatry.
- While Paul was preaching–Jews who had come from Antioch and Iconium came and stirred up a riot against Paul.
Outcome: This man Paul–the one who had stood by approving the stoning of Stephen — suffered the same fate. The citizens of Lystra stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city–left for dead.
- some scholars think that it was in this state of unconsciousness that Paul was given the vision that he described in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 as being caught up into the third heaven.
- unlike Stephen, Paul was surrounded by caring believers who witnessed him being revived enough that he was able to go back into Lystra.
Q: Can you imagine the effect that Paul’s persistence had on the citizens of Lystra? Was that demonstration used by the Holy Spirit to melt the pagan idolatrous hearts? Was that demonstration more effective than 2 years worth of sermons?
Acts 14: 21-28 To Derbe and then back home to Syrian Antioch
- Luke’s report of Paul’s time in Derbe is brief and very positive, “won a large number of disciples.” (vs. 21)
- Instead of heading directly home, Paul retraced his steps and went back to each city to encourage and strengthen the new believers in Lystra, Iconium and Pisidan Antioch.
- he warned them that following Christ meant following a path that included suffering
- he appointed leadership (elders) for the house churches so that they could grow as communitites of faith.
- he entered into prayer and fasting on their behalf trusting their existence to the Spirit who had created and re-created them!
- Paul retunred to the sending church in Syrian Antioch and shared how he saw the grace of God protecting, sustaining, creating faith, and drawing many Gentiles to the one true God who had revealed Himself most clearly in the person of Jesus the Christ.
- I had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of Dr. James Montgomery Boice in a teacher’s conference on Romans and through wonderful commentary writings. In his commentary on Acts, he shared that “the Holy Spirit is not a power for us to use, but rather He is a person whose job is to use us.”
- As you think back over how this first journey began and all that Paul and Barnabas encountered, can you see the truth of that quote lived out in these missionaries?
- How is the Holy Spirit seeking to use you in your church, family and community relationships?
- How is the Holy Spirit using the study of Acts to give you a God-centered world view?