We are continuing our series on the book of Acts. Throughout the book, we have seen how the Gospel of Jesus confronts all kinds of sins. The self-righteousness of the Pharisees, the Satanic worship of Simon, the persecution of Saul…
But today, we are going to look at a time when the Gospel confronted a weird kind of sin. A kind of sin that is STRANGE, but not all that uncommon in our modern world. In fact, if we’re not careful, it can become a problem here at Gethsemane. In the next minutes, we want to identify (1) what the weird kind idol worship is (2) how does it manifest itself in our own lives and (3) how do we defend against it? Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Weird Kind of Idol Worship
The lesson starts in Acts 14:8 in a place called Lystra. Before we get into what happens there, let’s briefly recap where Paul and Barnabas have been so far:
Pisidian Antioch. While there, Paul and Barnabas had the opportunity to preach in the synagogue. The response? A few believed; others argued with them; shouted at them; and verbally abused them. When Paul responded by taking the Gospel outside the synagogue and to areas where people that weren’t even associated with the synagogue were, the opposers tracked him down, orchestrated a mob and threw Paul and Barnabas outside the city.
Iconium. While there, Paul and Barnabas again preached in the synagogue. Again, some believed. And again, some resorted to verbal abuse to get Paul to shut up. Paul responds by speaking boldly for the Lord (v. 4), but again the opposition is strong. The people of Iconium begin to plot, not just to throw Paul out the city, but to stone him to death – a fate avoided because of a few loving friends who sneak them out of the city.
In short, things weren’t going that well for Paul and Barnabas.
The Mission Trip had become a bit of a downer.
I imagine they hoped things would get better soon.
In Lystra, there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking> Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. (v.8-10)
If you’ve been following this entire series, maybe you’re starting to think: “Another paralyzed man made to walk?” Isn’t that like three times already?
Peter did it. (Acts 3)
Philip did it. (Acts 8)
Peter did it again. (Acts 9)
And now Paul did it.
But it doesn’t get any less impressive, does it?
He had been lame…from birth.
That means he had never walked.
He had never stood.
He had never taken a step.
Never done a burpee.
And all it takes is him hearing about Jesus’ incredible power…
About how He healed the paralyzed.
About how He healed the lame.
About how He walked again after his own predicament – this thing called death – where you really can’t move at all – and yet Jesus rose from the dead and walked again!
About how He promised all who believed in Him healing in heaven.
The man hears all of that, believes and is healed.
This wows the crowd!
They see the man healed.
And they started chanting…
…but not for God.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus and Paul they called Hermes. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. (v. 11-13)
In the world of the Early Church, Greek was the main language that just about everyone knew. It was useful for trade and communicating between countries. It’s similar to English in today’s world. If you know English, you’ll be able to communicate in just about any country.
Paul had probably been speaking in Greek with the crowd. But when the crowd sees what happens, they are so excited that they immediately revert back to their Lycaonian language.
It’s kind of like if you’re practicing Spanish. And you’re thinking really long and hard about words to use. You’re considering tense and voice and mood. Until…you a get text message that your grades are in and you got an A” and you start shouting: “Awesome!” No Spanish; just English. It’s your heart language that speaks when you’re excited.
That’s the reaction of the crowd. They begin shouting in their native tongue with excitement because they believe that Paul and Barnabas are gods. More specifically; they call Zeus and Hermes. Those are the names of the Greek gods which had a very prevalent religious following in the Ancient World. Zeus was the god of thunder. He’s the one who hurls lightning bolts from the sky. Hermes was the messenger god – he’s the one who brought messages from the gods of Mt. Olympus to the people of earth.
Nowadays there aren’t a lot of people that still believe in these gods. It’s kind of an ancient, defunct religion. But it still holds some power in Hollywood. Including one of my favorite versions from the movie Hercules: Zeus and Hermes. (If this is what people thought of when they mentioned Hermes, I’d be a bit upset if I was Paul… Why does Barnabas get the big muscular guy?)
The people don’t stop at calling Paul and Barnabas gods; they want to worship them like gods. The priest of Zeus was nearby. He runs to the local temple. He opens it up with his keys. He grabs some of the oxen that they were going to sacrifice to Zeus later that week; he takes down some of the incredible, ornamental wreaths around the temple, and he makes his way back to the crowd – ready to offer his gifts to Paul and Barnabas.
The people are smiling.
They people are shouting.
The people are thinking that Paul and Barnabas are gods!
How are Paul and Barnabas going to react?
To be fair – this must have been pretty nice.
Recently, they had been verbally abused, rejected and threatened with being stoned.
It must have been nice to have a crowd that loved them so much that they LITERALLY: worshipped the ground they walked on.
Paul could tell them to “Go, get us a hammock.”
To “Go, grab us a margarita.”
To “Go, cut down some palm branches and keep them waving as we, your gods, begin our cushy new life and reign over the city.”
It might be nice to have people worship you like a god…
That’s not what Paul and Barnabas do…
They get an interpreter.
They find out that the crowd thinks their gods.
They tear their clothes in agony.
And rush out into the crowd shouting:
“Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God.” (v.14-15)
Did you hear that?
Their message is to turn from THESE worthless things.
As turn from this worthless kind of idol worship.
And that worship kind of idol that you are worshipping…
WRITE THIS DOWN: Idol worship is fearing, loving or trusting anything more than God. The specific weird kind of idol worship that the people of Lystra were dealing in was fearing, loving and trusting in Paul and Barnabas more than God. It was putting people – even Jesus preaching people - above God.
II. A Not So Weird Kind of Idol Worship
But we are 21st century Americans.
We are an enlightened people.
We wouldn’t worship humans…right?
Remember the definition of idol worship:
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you bow down and worship them or that you hold worship services where you sing at a big statue of some person.
It means, loving, trusting, or fearing something or someone more than God.
And if that’s the definition, maybe this weird kind of idol worship is more common than we thought.
Here are a few ways that this weird kind of sin is plaguing society and maybe even plaguing your life.
This might be an easy one to see. Because the truth is that humans spend more on Instagram to see if the Kardashians have any new hairstyles than they do in the Bible to see if God has anything holy we need to emulate.
And it’s not just looking up to them either.
Imagine for a second that there a new social issue comes up. Some people say one thing about it. Other people say another thing.
But before you make a decision on how to react to the issue, you check to see –
What does Emma Stone have to say about that?
Did Arnold Schwarzenegger approve?
I can’t weigh in on the issue until the Rock posts a witty comment and tells me how to think.
Why go to a sinful people for how to think on an issue?
Why not go to God who is ALWAYS good and in fact invented absolute morality?
To trust a celebrity over God, that’s a weird kind of idolatry.
Notice I didn’t say science. I am not anti-science at all. I enjoy making a baking soda volcano as much as the next guy. Science is good. Science is valuable. Science helps you understand the complexities of God’s creation.
But science also has subjective presuppositions that go with it. When a scientist has the presupposition that there is no God and can be no God and anything not explainable by science must be a lie – then scientists will tell you that…
There’s no way that the miracles described in the Bible can happen.
There’s no way some dude died and then came back to life.
There’s no way some dude walked on water.
There’s no way some God made this world in 6 24-hour days.
There’s no way some dude made some paralyzed guy walk by just telling him to.
Here’s where it gets dangerous: If you trust that scientist, more than the God’s Word, then who you are really trusting?
God wants us to use His Word to inform our understanding of science.
Not scientists to inform your understanding of the Bible.
Because that’s trusting a scientist whose been here 40, 50, 60 years? More than God who was around since before eternity and has shown no signs of aging.
To trust a scientist over God… that’s a weird kind of idolatry.
This happens every time that elections roll around whether you are Democrat or Republican or any other kind of party. We listen to our favorite candidate speak. We become engrossed in their promises. We live and breathe whatever it is they are saying – and we put our trust in them to make our lives on this earth better.
And then when it doesn’t? We have a tendency to double down.
We have a tendency to defend that person no matter what they say and do.
Even if what they say and do is not godly. (And by the way. If you think I’m talking about one particular person right now, you’re wrong. This applies to a plethora of politicians from a plethora of political parties).
If the words of a sinful, fibbing politician become bigger dogma than the words of God, that’s a weird kind of idolatry.
Maybe you saw this one coming. This is essentially what happened with Paul and Barnabas. The people worshipped those who told them about worshipping the true God more than the true God. To be fair – this isn’t as obvious as it was in the story. There aren’t any hymns sung to the glory of me.
But…this is a danger.
A couple of years ago. I had been helping someone out over a few months. There had been counseling. There had been teaching. There had been phone conversations where I pointed them to Jesus and they found comfort.
But one week – as I had told this person – I was on vacation. I went up to the Midwest. I was visiting family and I saw his phone call. I saw it and tried to focus on my wife. They called again; I said …Nope I gotta focus on my wife. Finally, a third time… I figured it was an emergency.
“Yes, this is Pastor.”
“Pastor! We’ve got a problem. My wife said this, and I think she’s wrong. Can you please tell her so?”
Well…I’m kind of on my vacation.
Please, pastor? You’re the only one that can help.
Actually. No. God can help. Right now, I’m working on my family and I’m working on connecting with my wife.
But God can help. He speaks in his Word. He answers prayers.
Did you try any of that?
“So, you’re not gonna help then?”
Did you know that I have never seen that person again? It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I think it highlighted an issue:
That person trusted me more than God.
And that cannot happen.
And if you trust me, or some other pastor, or some other theological speaker more than God…
That’s a weird kind of idolatry.
To be fair – we could keep going on with this list, but I think you get the point.
If you fear, love or trust a person…any person more than God, then you are just like those people in Lystra. You are committing idolatry.
If you have been committing idolatry, you need to do exactly God, the real God says and “Repent. Turn from these worthless things to the Living God.” (v14)
III. The Real God
Because the REAL GOD? He is capable of immensely more than any human being. Listen to three quick reasons that Paul gives for worshipping the Living God:
1. He made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them…(v. 15)
We aren’t just talking about some celebrity who made one platinum record, but God who forged the very minerals necessary to make the entirety of all platinum within the bellows of earth.
We aren’t just talking about some scientist who has invented a way to identify one strand of DNA, but the God who invented and distributed every single strand of infinitesimal DNA in the history of the universe ever!
God is so much more powerful than any human could dream to be.
2. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons…and plenty of food... (v.17)
We aren’t just talking about some politician who might make your life on earth better for a bit…if they can get their laws to pass and if they don’t change their mind, but we are talking about the God
who has provided food for the whole world.
Who keeps the sun shining.
Who keeps the rain raining.
Who keeps the plans growing.
Who has given you broccolis and bananas, grapes and grape wine, corn on the cob and the corn necessary to make the Dorito!
God takes cares of you – even when you don’t believe in HIM and don’t give HIM glory – he takes cares of you.
And beyond that – God promises to take care of you for eternity.
God is so much more consistent than any human being could ever be.
3. He Fills your hearts with Joy. (v.17)
We aren’t talking about some pastor -- who might be able to help you feel a bit better…if he isn’t distracted, if his training allows and if he’s not sleeping.
God is always able to help.
He’s never distracted.
He knows all things.
He has never slept and will never sleep…not even for an afternoon nap.
God is constant.
And God brings the ultimate joy! Because…who else do you know that can save you from sin?
No human can save from sin.
Only God himself who came down as a human to save us from sin.
Want proof? Easy.
Most humans die. Many humans that many have looked up to over history have died:
Julius Caesar? Dead.
Stephen Hawking? Dead.
Jesus? He died, but then…He did the one thing that no living human has ever been able to do – He brought Himself back to life.
This is Jesus.
This is the REAL, LIVING GOD.
If you put your faith in Jesus, He provides complete, absolute forgiveness for all your sins of idolatry.
For all the times you have trusted others more…
For all the times you have feared others more…
For all the times you have loved others more…
Jesus brings absolute forgiveness.
IV. WHAT NOW?
Look at how this lesson ends. Paul tells them that he’s not God and the people get rather upset.
In fact, what happens is that the riot group from Antioch meets up with the people who plotted in Iconium, they make their way to Lystra – rile up the crowds there and suddenly:
The very group that had previously been worshipping Paul, drag him outside the city.
They throw him on the ground.
They shout violent and vicious things.
They pick up stones.
They hurl them at his head.
He falls to the ground in the heap.
And the people? They cheer.
They high five.
They leave feeling pretty good – they’ve killed that God lover.
But Paul? He’s not dead.
God has given him life.
And he gets up.
And he brushes himself off.
He meets up with Barnabas and keeps preaching about Jesus.
Friends, you do the same.
Keep trusting in the TRUE God.
Keep preaching about the TRUE God.
And the true God…He will give you Life. Amen.
Last week we heard about the beginning of the very first congregationally sponsored mission trip. Saul and Barnabas were commissioned by the Holy Spirit, fraternally supported and sent out on a mission to share the message of Jesus with countries that had never heard of him. They made their way to the Island of Cyprus and preached the good news along the coast. Many believed. Then, they were invited to the governor’s palace in Paphos where God struck a false prophet blind and brought the governor to faith! Amazing!
If I were Paul or Barnabas, I would feel pretty good about the mission trip so far.
They just beat a false prophet.
The governor is a believer.
People have been greeting their messages with high fives and hugs.
If people always respond to the message of Jesus this way, then sign me up for a mission trip for the rest of my life.
Today we are going to look at the very city where Paul and Barnabas explored. It’s a city where the reaction is a bit different; in fact, it’s heartbreaking! Our goal with today’s study is to understand (1) why rejection of the Gospel is greatest heartbreak for God and (2) how to deal with heartbreak when you’re sharing the Gospel. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s Heart
The lesson starts in Acts 14 at a place called Pisidian Antioch. It’s called Pisidian Antioch to distinguish it from Syrian Antioch. Both cities called Antioch, different places. (It’s similar to Jacksonville, FL versus Jacksonville, NC – Same city name; very different places). Pisidian Antioch is located a couple hundred miles north of Paphos in a region of modern day Turkey.
When they arrive in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas do what they normally do when they enter a town. They entered the synagogue and sat down. (v.14)
This was clever on their part.
The synagogue was the place where Jewish people gathered; Paul and Barnabas were Jewish people.
The synagogue is where they studied the Old Testament; Paul and Barnabas were scholars of the Old Testament.
The synagogue is where they taught about the Messiah who would come: Paul and Barnabas preached the good news of the Messiah who had already come.
It made sense to start their visit to a new city by attending the local synagogue. They had a lot in common with those people.
So that’s what they do in Pisidian Antioch:
They enter the synagogue.
They introduce themselves to other attendees.
They shake hands with the Rabbi.
They sit down in back.
They listen to the Rabbi talk about how the Messiah will come one day.
Then, the leaders of the synagogue invite them to speak. (v. 15)
Paul gets up and preaches. Interesting note – this is the Apostle Paul’s very first sermon that is chronologically recorded in Scripture. And it’s very specific. In the sermon, He has a few specific points that he wants to bring out for the Jewish audience that is there. It’s a longer sermon. We won’t tackle every verse, but…here’s a brief overview of his main points:
A. Old Testament History Shows God’s Heart for His People
This is the perfect start to the sermon. The Jews there would have been very familiar with the Old Testament stories that he’s about to reference. In fact, they would probably have learned them at their version of Sunday School – maybe even some of the Old Testament that they had just read in their synagogue service.
And it becomes a brief history of God’s heart for the people of Israel:
God chose their ancestors.
God made the people prosper in Egypt.
God used his mighty power to get them out of Egypt.
God endured their conduct in the wilderness.
God overthrew opposing nations.
God gave them the land of Canaan.
God gave them a King. (v.17-22)
God did something even more amazing than any of this.
God sent a Savior because God’s heart is for his people.
B. OT Prophecy is Prompted by God’s Heart
This is important. Because God didn’t want his people to miss out on the Savior.
It’d be like your mom telling you that “Yes, you have one more birthday gift on the way. Keep an eye on the mail. It’ll show up in about 4 days. It’ll be coming via UPS. It’ll be a box about 3-feet-wide by 2-feet-long. It should be in a bright red Package from SweatSocksRUs.com Don’t miss it! P.S. If it doesn’t have Sweat Socks in it, it’s not my gift.
Mom gives you the description, so you don’t miss the gift.
God gave prophecies in the Old Testament, so we didn’t miss his greatest gift, the Savior.
Paul mentions a few of those prophecies in verses 23-35:
OT Prophecy said that a voice from the desert would prepare the way for Jesus; John the Baptist lived in the desert and prepared the way for Jesus.
OT Prophecy says that the Savior would be pierced (Is. 53:5a); Jesus was pierced with nails.
OT Prophecy says that Jesus would be crushed (Is. 53:5b); Jesus’ lungs were crushed as he hung on that cross.
OT Prophecy says that Jesus would be punished (Is.53:5c); Jesus was crucified with the most common of Roman punishments.
OT Prophecy says that the Savior would be mocked (Psalm 22:7); Jesus was mocked (Luke 23:36; Mt. 27:31)
OT Prophecy says that the Savior’s mouth would be dry (Psalm 22:15); Jesus’ mouth was dry. (Jn. 19:28)
OT Prophecy says that the Savior’s bones would not be broken. (Psalm 22:17) None of Jesus’ bones were. (Jn. 19:33)
OT Prophecy says that soldiers would cast lots for the Savior’s clothing. (Psalm 22:18) That’s exactly what the soldiers did. (Jn. 19:24)
All of these things happened…just as OT Prophecy said…to help us identify God’s greatest gift.
That’s not all the Scripture said.
In Psalm 16:10 King David wrote this: “You will not let your holy one see decay.”
Paul quotes it in his sermon. He notes that it’s a strange statement for two reasons:
(1) Most dead things decay.
(2) David died and decayed.
So, if his body decayed, who was David talking about?
I’ll let Paul answer: “David died…his body decayed; but the One whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:37)
That’d be Jesus.
An unmistakable prophecy fulfilled by the Savior.
C. God’s Heart Desires to Bring Forever Blessings to You
This is Paul’s conclusion – God did all those miracles, prophesied all those prophesies, and brought them all into fulfillment because He wants to bring forever blessings to you.
Blessings that can only be yours through faith in Jesus.
It’s kind of like Starbucks rewards points. Do you have them? If you a Gold Card member, you receive free refills on coffee and tea. On your birthday, you get a free drink and every 125 points you receive a free drink, anything on the menu. But if you don’t have your Starbucks card with you – then you don’t receive any of those blessings. Even if your membership is paid for – you don’t get a free refill. You don’t get a free birthday drink and you will have to pay for the White Chocolate Raspberry Mocha.
Spiritually speaking – Jesus has paid for all the blessings of God’s love.
But you need Jesus to experience those paid for blessings.
This is where faith comes in: like a wallet for your Starbucks card, faith holds onto Jesus.
Where Jesus is, there are His blessings.
What blessings? Paul says it this way in verses 38-39. Write it down. Underline it. Put a big permanent marker star by it: “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…” (Acts 13:38-39)
The three blessings are:
Forgiveness. It means that God forgives you. God forgives you for that big sin. God forgives you for that little sin. God forgives you for that medium sized sin. God doesn’t hold it against you. God isn’t seeking revenge. God is at peace with you and you are at peace with him. Sound nice? Want forgiveness? Believe in Jesus.
Freedom. Because sin can burden you. Sin can enslave you. It can tell you to keep sinning and trap you in guilt that you can never get away from. Jesus sets you free from that. He gives you God’s power to fight back. He breaks you free from the bondage of guilt to say of yourself: “God loves me; why do I need to sin anymore?” Want freedom from sin? Believe in Jesus.
Justification. That’s a courtroom term. It means “to be declared innocent by the judge.” That’s great news, especially if the crime requires a death sentence. Because if you are innocent, you don’t have to undergo the death sentence. To be spiritually justified means that God has declared you “spiritually forever innocent” and you don’t have to undergo the spiritual eternal death known as hell! How’s that for uplifting? Even when your inner voice says: “Guilty!” God’s divine gavel says: “Innocent!” Want that verdict? Believe in Jesus.
Forgiveness, freedom and an innocent verdict are all gifts of God’s heart, because… the heart of God’s heart is his love for you.
God’s Heart Deeply Desires to Spend Forever with you.
Do you know anyone else who cares for you that much?
II. God’s Heartbreak
When Paul finished his sermon on God’s love, some people believed him.
They invited Paul and Barnabas back the following week.
But it wasn’t to listen.
It was to shout: “Quiet! Stop talking. Shut up!”
It was to ridicule: “You’re a moron. What kind of a fool believes in this Jesus guy?”
It was to contradict: “Jesus isn’t the Savior. The Savior is still coming and will give us freedom from the Roman government.”
They rejected Paul and his teaching.
But rejecting Paul wasn’t all they were doing. Look closely at Paul’s response: “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 Gentile.” (v.46)
This wasn’t a rejection of Paul.
It was a rejection of God Himself.
It was a rejection of God’s greatest gift -- the Savior.
And a rejection of the Savior is a rejection of all the blessings that the Savior brings.
It’s a rejection of forgiveness.
It’s a rejection of freedom.
It’s a rejection of the innocent verdict.
It’s a rejection of eternal life.
This is God’s heartbreak.
Not that God needs you to love him. He doesn’t. He’ll still be God with or without you.
But God’s greatest heartbreak is losing you because he knows what it means for you without Him in your life.
Do you reject Jesus?
If so, can I speak candidly to you on God’s behalf?
Please, please, please reconsider...you will miss out…on everything.
And to be fair, I’m not just speaking to those of you who have recently said: “I reject Jesus.”
Because you can reject something without ever saying it:
It’s like the first girl that I ever asked to dance. She just smiled. She said she had to use the restroom. She went out through the back of the auditorium where we held our dances. I waited for her near the back.
Until I gave up only to return to the dance floor and see that she had already come back to the dance floor via the other door.
You know…the one that didn’t go by me.
You can reject something without saying: “I reject this.”
You can Jesus without saying, “I reject Jesus.”
You can reject Jesus by continually rejecting opportunities to worship Him. You don’t have to say it out loud. You just have to hit the snooze button.
You can reject Jesus by rejecting that invite to grow in faith at Bible study. Again – no words necessary. Just click the delete button on the Google Calendar Invite.
You can reject Jesus by closing your Bible and never ever again looking at that part of Scripture that talks about the sin you really enjoy doing.
Here’s the truth:
Rejection of God’s Word, God’s counsel or God’s people is a rejection of God himself.
And that rejection puts you in grave danger.
Because eventually, after the people have been name-calling, shouting at and abusing Paul and asking him to leave – do you know what happens?
He leaves, and he shakes the dust off of his feet as he leaves.
Taking God’s Word with him.
Here’s a scary truth.
If you keep rejecting God,
If you keep asking God to leave your life.
Stop rejecting your Lord.
Call out for God to stop shaking the dust and return to you.
And? He will.
How do I know? Because God’s greatest joy is having you with him in eternity!
Do you get that?
You are the main reason behind God’s constant interaction with human history.
It’s why he interacted through miracles in the Old Testament to keep the promise of the Savior alive.
It’s why He recorded prophecy after prophecy, so you didn’t miss out on his greatest gift.
It’s why He died on the cross.
It’s why He rose from the dead.
It’s why He has you right here right now to hear this message that I am speaking.
And his greatest joy is making you His eternally.
If you call out to God in mercy, He returns. His love for you is that great!
So, call out to him and believe in Jesus.
Believe in Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW? (Lessons for Missionaries)
Now if I could segue for a second. I want to switch gears. I want to speak to those of you that have been trying to share Jesus with others.
I want to speak to those of you who have a family member or friend who just doesn’t listen and doesn’t want to believe.
Maybe that’s heartbreaking to you.
How do you deal?
Paul had to go through this. His fellow countrymen didn’t listen. How did he deal?
The lesson for today has a few tips:
1) Desire the Heart of God
When you are sharing the Gospel with someone repeatedly and they don’t listen, that hurts. And you might be tempted become callous.
To develop this scarring.
To approach mission work like – “Meh! Whatever...” Because then it doesn’t hurt so much.
That is not God’s heart.
And it shouldn’t be yours.
To truly share the Gospel, we need a heart that breaks at the thought of someone missing out on eternal life.
That drives us.
That motivates us.
That leads us to share the Gospel. Again, and again and again.
That’s why Paul shared the Gospel! He had previously been apart from eternal life. Now he wasn’t.
He didn’t want others to miss out and it drove his mission work.
It’s why He didn’t stop after the rejection at Pisidian Antioch.
He kept going.
If your heart hurts, thank the Lord for that. It’s a key part of doing mission work.
If your heart doesn’t, ask God to give you a heart that sees – not people in no need of interacting with—but souls in need of saving.
2) Understand the Recipient of the Rejection
Because it’s easy to feel rejected. To think: I have invited that guy over 37 weeks in a row! You know what? If he doesn’t want to believe me, fine! I can’t believe he did this to me! I’m a nice guy. I have decent hair. I make good jokes. How could he reject me!?!
Remember what Paul said.
Rejection of the Gospel isn’t rejection of you.
It’s rejection of God.
And God can handle it.
You just keep sharing.
And what will help you in sharing?
Do what Paul did:
3) Rejoice in those Who Do Believe
Because did you notice at the end of the chapter in verse 52. It says: “The disciples were filled with joy.” It isn’t because they were excited that all those people were rejecting the Gospel.
Nope. They were simply focusing on those who received it.
We need to remember that simple tip.
This happens to me just about every week. I get done with the service. I’m feeling pretty good. Then about 2 hours afterwards I’m scrolling on Facebook and I see someone who I invited, and I think: Wait? Why weren’t they here? And…why didn’t so and so come? And where was he? And where was she? And if only they had come too!
What terrible thinking.
What futile thinking.
Instead? Focus on the good.
Celebrate God’s victories.
Thank God for your faith and the faith of your fellow believers.
Because the reality is that there is heartbreak in mission work, yes.
But the heartbreak is outweighed by the incredible joy.
May God lift up your heart with that joy. Amen.
Way back in 2002 when I was a junior in high school, I went on a Mission Trip to Puerto Rico. At first, it was a lot of fun. The climate was tropical. The buildings were beautiful. The beaches were pristine.
But then…we started to work. Up and down, in the streets, hour after hour – knocking on doors, telling people about Jesus and inviting them to our Vacation Bible School. The people weren’t always the friendliest. One man just so happened to be holding a machete. Another man threatened to release his dogs. One house didn’t have anyone in it - just a giant rooster – that wasn’t too keen on my visit.
To be honest – It was hot. It was sweaty. It didn’t seem to be much of a success.
I began to think to myself:
To be fair, I didn’t have it nearly as tough as some people doing mission work have it!
There are missions in the Middle East threatened by terrorists.
There are missions in East Asia threatened to be shut down by the government.
There are missions in India where church buildings get bombed.
All because of mission work. Is it really worth it?
We’ve been studying the book of ACTS and we have that sharing the Gospel was a key part of what the apostles did. Today we’re going to look at one Early Christian Congregation that thought mission work was so important – they sent out church members to go and do that mission work in different cities – in different countries. Our goal in this study of Acts 13 is to find out where the idea for mission work comes from and how much the church (our church) should be involved on a daily basis.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mission Work is God’s Idea
Our text in Acts 13 deals with a congregation in Antioch, Syria. Antioch was over 500 miles north of Jerusalem. The congregation formed way back when the persecution started in Jerusalem. Christians had tried to avoid the persecution, so they ran away from Jerusalem and settled in Antioch. Eventually they had formed a Christian congregation there. And it had gone pretty well. Check out Acts 11:20-21: “Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
That sounds nice doesn’t it?
The group of Christians moved themselves away from the persecution.
They moved away from the uncomfortable unbelievers who were against them.
They had grown together into a nicely sized group.
What should they do next?
Maybe they could build a sanctuary?
Improve their morning coffee ministry?
Divvy up who brought treats to Sunday worship?
Check out Acts 13: While the congregation members in Antioch were worshipping the Lord…the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (v.1-2)
Did you hear that?
Did you hear who decided what to do next?
It wasn’t a group of men sitting in a board room trying to figure out the next best move for the church.
It wasn’t a state mandated next step.
it wasn’t something they found on Pinterest.
It wasn’t the result of a poll on Facebook.
A couple of guys didn’t say: You know what I’d like to do? Go on a mission trip to the beach – and you can all pay for it!
Saul and Barnabas’ mission work was God’s idea.
Have you ever noticed a difference between who comes up with ideas at work? If it’s a fellow coworker, the idea is generally open to critiques and criticism. You might not do it. You might not listen.
But what happens if it is the Boss’ idea? “What’s that BOSS? A movie about tornados and sharks? That sounds rad! Let’s do it!”
What I mean is, the higher a person’s rank is the more you listen to their ideas.
Whose idea was mission work again?
How high does God rank?
No wonder the Antioch congregation follows through! Mission work was God’s idea!
And it shows God’s heart. Because people don’t naturally know about their Savior. Naturally, they need a Savior; but they don’t naturally know about their Savior. Without faith in their Savior, they must face God’s wrath against sin – all on their own. But God loves people that much. He directs affairs in his church and commissioned mission work with the express purpose of bringing the message of the Savior to all people.
Now…I don’t know how the Holy Spirit told the Antioch congregation this. Did he speak out loud? Did he write it on the wall? Did he give them a vision? It’s unclear.
But what is important is what the Holy Spirit clearly communicated: Do mission work.
Now…I don’t see anything on the walls here today.
I can’t hear any voice speaking.
We have the bible.
The Bible is God’s Word.
The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is confirmed by Jesus.
And the Bible says this:
Go and make disciples of all nations. (Mt. 28:19)
In other words:
Our mission work – is God’s idea too.
Sharing the message of Jesus in North Raleigh is God’s idea.
Not the elders.
Not some Synod official.
I imagine ya’ll have busy weeks ahead.
There’s work to do.
Meals to make.
Things to clean.
Kids to chauffeur.
QUESTION: Do any of you have “Do Mission Work” written on your list this week?
Would you put it there?
It’s God’s idea.
It’s God’s command.
It’s God’s purpose for you.
II. Mission Work is Qualified by the Holy Spirit
The church at Antioch had a few different leaders in their congregation. You might recognize a couple of those names. Barnabas – He’s the guy who sold a field to help out his fellow Christians way back in chapter 4. Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen appear to be some guys who had learned from the Apostles and now were teachers of the Word. They all would have made sense as leaders of the church and choices for mission work.
But…there’s one name that isn’t quite like the others: Saul.
Do you remember him? Saul is the guy that a little over a year earlier had been leading the persecution against the church. He had thrown Christians in prison and made death threats against them. It was so bad that his persecution is the reason the Antioch Christian congregation had formed in the first place! Then, he saw Jesus and became a believer. Something that was hard for some Christians to stomach – a big, old sinner like that? Chosen by God to have forgiveness? Should we really let him into the church?
But not only did God do that…
Not only did God make Saul a believer…
Not only did God grant Saul forgiveness…
Not only did God make Saul a member of the church…
But God placed Saul in church leadership!
And then! At the outset of this mission, God specifically requests him for mission work!
Humanly speaking, Saul might be one of the last people I choose for mission work. Can you imagine his work resume? “So, you are applying to go tell people about Jesus. What kind of experience do you have? Oh…you have experience killing people who believed in Jesus…”
Humanly speaking Saul’s past would have disqualified him from mission work.
But that’s humanly speaking…
Divinely speaking, Saul is 100% qualified.
He’s qualified because the Holy Spirit qualified Saul for mission work.
In fact, the truth is: The Holy Spirit qualifies mission workers for mission work.
This is key for you and me.
Because if we thought about our past, if we really, truly thought about our deeds, there’d be all kinds of disqualifications from doing mission work.
I don’t know enough.
I’m too big of a sinner.
I’ve done too much wrong.
I’ve not been here long enough.
But here’s the deal:
It isn’t your past that qualifies you.
It’s the Holy Spirit.
If the Holy Spirit has called you to faith, he has also called you to share in mission work…and qualified you.
He has qualified us.
And that doesn’t mean you have to go across state lines.
You might only have to go across the cubicle at work.
Across the street.
Across the bedroom in your hall.
Keep your eyes open and share Jesus.
III. Mission Work is to be Fraternally Supported
How would the rest of the church react to the mission? Take a look at verse 3. They fasted and prayed, then they placed their hands on Saul and Barnabas and sent them off. (v.3) The brothers and sisters in church, fraternally supported their work. Notice they supported the mission work in two ways:
The congregation participated in the laying on of hands. What is laying on of hands? It’s (get this) the laying on of hands in support of a brother or sister in the ministry. Maybe you lay on hands and say a prayer. Maybe you say a verse of Scripture. Maybe you simply pat him on the back and say, “God’s blessings.” In our congregation, when pastors are installed – fellow pastors will attend the service, lay hands on the rookie pastor and speak Scriptures and blessings on his ministry.
When Saul and Barnabas were being sent out, the congregation laid hands on them, too. Whether it was all the church leaders or just the leadership, Barnabas and Saul are publicly supported.
And I am certain Saul and Barnabas were uplifted by it!
Imagine you are about to run a race. Your friends and family are there. They smile and immediately start booing you. They tell you how awful you are. They hold up signs that say, “You stink at running.”
That’s not very uplifting.
The same is true in mission work. Public support uplifts mission work; public complaints…Not so much.
If I can be honest, there was one Sunday a while back that a pastor friend of mine called. He was feeling pretty upset. To be fair – worship had gone well. There were visitors there. He had given high fives and been excited to share Jesus.
But then after worship – as he was walking to the back to get some cookies – he overhead a few long-time members say:
I don’t think does a very good job. He’s not that good at pastoring. I think he should think about leaving.
Think about it – my friend had received a bunch of high fives and one complaint.
Which do you think he had spent the last day and a half thinking about?
Public support is uplifting; public complaints…Not so much.
Even if it’s true! It doesn’t matter. That’s called gossip. Publicly complaining is like cancer. Public support is uplifting; public complaints…Not so much.
But rather than public badmouthing, God calls us to publicly support mission work and those who do mission work.
How can you do it here? It’s not just supporting me. (Although I do appreciate that) It’s supporting the teachers at Precious Lambs, the teachers at Sunday School, small group leaders, elders, greeters, building committee members! You can do it with a high five. A pat on the back. A THANK YOU. A post on Social Media talking up the ministry at church. A like on your friend’s media who is sharing ministry at church.
That is uplifting.
To be honest, it’s doing what God has already done for you.
Because it is God uplifts us.
He calls you His Child.
He calls you forgiven.
He calls you part of his kingdom.
He calls you a part of this ministry!
God supports us.
We support others.
God supports others through us.
And it’s not just publicly…
Look at verse 3 again. They fasted and prayed. It wasn’t just in public where they showed up in church, gave pats on the back and high fives, but then went home and totally forgot about the mission work.
Instead they went home.
They fasted – meaning they didn’t eat much food in order to focus on the second thing they were doing: they prayed.
They were praying that God would bless the mission work.
They were praying that God would bless Barnabas.
They were praying that God would bless Saul.
They were praying that God would empower them to share the Gospel.
They were pray8ing that God would bless the Gospel in the hearts of those who would hear it.
They were praying that God would continue to bless the church in Antioch and keep them faithfully connected to his Word.
This is something for you to do, too.
To pray for the growth of God’s ministry in Raleigh.
To pray for God’s ministry around the globe.
To pray for those that are a part of that ministry.
To pray that God works through their ministry.
To pray that God’s Word works on the hearts of those touched by our ministry.
To pray that God continues to plant the message of the Gospel in the hearts of North Raleigh.
To pray that God continues to plan the message of the Gospel around the world.
IV. Mission Work is Powered by God Himself
Back to the text.
Saul and Barnabas are sent off. They make their way down to Seleucia and sail to an island called Cyprus (v.5). They are sharing Jesus everywhere they go.
Eventually they make their way to Paphos. (v.6) Paphos is headquarters for the Roman proconsul named Sergius Paulus. Now – the proconsul was very much like a governor. It was his job to rule over Paphos and report to Caesarea who was in charge of the entire Roman empire.
When Saul and Barnabas are in Paphos, Sergius Paul sends for them.
That seems really intimidating. They are standing before a Roman Governor, in a Roman palace, filled with Roman soldiers and Roman advisors. The last time that sort of thing happened was with a guy named Jesus and the governor Pontius Pilate. That ended with Jesus, dead, on a cross.
And as they are talking with the proconsul, his advisors get upset. One of them starts heckling them. He’s the advisor to the king and also a false prophet. In fact, his nickname, Elymas, means “sorcerer” and implies that he was connected with the dark, Satanic arts.
Elymas sees the proconsul hearing the Gospel and starts heckling Saul and Barnabas!
“These guys are idiots! They don’t know what they are talking about. Don’t listen to them. Listen to me.”
And Saul hears him shouting.
And Saul takes a deep breath.
And Saul shouts:
“You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind.” (v.9-10)
Elymas is struck blind.
The dark sorcerer sees nothing but darkness.
And the proconsul? He believes.
Here’s the truth:
Mission work is powered by God Himself.
Mission workers are powered by God himself.
God’s Power was with Saul.
God’s Power was with Barnabas.
God’s Power was with the other disciples.
God’s power is with you.
To be fair, God might not strike anyone blind through you…
But He might lead someone out of their blindness.
The other day I started Bible Basics with someone who was a bit unfamiliar with Christianity. In the first lesson, we talk about resurrection. I told her that Jesus died and on Easter came back to life. (No joke – this is about 5 minutes into class) And she says, “Oh!?! That’s real? I thought it was made up.”
Over the next hours, I didn’t do anything special.
I simply shared the powerful Word of God.
And now? She knows Jesus came back to life.
And she believes Jesus came back to life.
She believes Jesus is her Savior.
That’s why we do mission work.
That’s why God wants you to do mission work.
Do mission work. Amen.
Who here remembers King Herod?
Hmm, no, no not the King Herod who met with the wise men and then ordered all the infants in Bethlehem killed. That was his grandfather.
No, not the King Herod who ordered John the Baptist beheaded and later wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle. That was his uncle.
I’m talking about the King Herod who put the first apostle of Jesus to death and tried to do it again shortly after.
Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were all the same king, right? The time-span is short enough that they could all be the same man and more to the point, they all behave very similarly. They have no regard for the true God. At best they are apathetic about it, and at worst they actively work against it just to further their own means.
And that’s exactly what’s happening in our reading today. This particular Herod, Herod Agrippa I, was just trying to secure his position as king. He was “king” of the Jews, but not in any way the Jews really recognized. He was put there by the Roman conquerors. The Jews hated the idea of any nation being over them, and this puppet king was just an ongoing reminder of it. So Herod had to deal with this constant distaste from them.
However, at this time, there was something else the Jews were starting to hate just as much. There were these men who were trying to subvert the Jewish religion. Followers of what was sometimes called The Way, but recently had started using the term “Christians”. The Jews hated these guys, too. And as the old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Herod realized that if he attacked this new church movement, he’d earn himself some points in the polls with the Jewish people and that would make his job that much easier.
The first major target? James. Son of Zebedee, brother of John. Same John who later wrote the gospel of John, a few letters, and the book of Revelation. James was one of the original twelve, he’d walked with and learned from Jesus himself. And Herod, in true dictatorial power, had him executed. No trial or any sort of legal cause. Just, “you die.”
It’s not like being a Christian was a picnic so far, but this stepped it up even more. Yes, he wasn’t the first to die for Jesus, but he was the first of the twelve who was martyred. And this time it wasn’t just the Jewish leadership acting out, it was the Roman government. And not even because they opposed the message of Jesus, but because the king wanted to be popular.
So, if things weren’t already tense in Jerusalem for Christians, this was going to raise the bar. And it only went higher. The next target was Peter, probably the most prominent leader of the early church. And there was nothing Peter could do about it. Nothing any of them could do about it. Herod had all the authority, all the power. His word was law. He said kill somebody and it happened. Reasons didn’t matter. There was no law to protect from that. No justice. Herod was just in control of the situation and the Christians, the apostles were not.
And so, it happened that after his friend and travelling companion of the last four or so years was essentially murdered that Peter found himself in prison waiting a similar fate. Guarded by a rotating squad of soldiers, actually chained to the soldiers in the prison. The next day, probably, he was going to die. And it wasn’t going to stop there. Herod would keep on going until there wasn’t anyone left.
The rest of the believers, what could they do? They couldn’t storm Roman soldiers and force Peter free, they were just people, not fighters.
It’s a desperate situation. One of the most public leaders of the church was waiting to die. A man who opposed everything they stood for was in complete control. And the message of the gospel was in danger of being snuffed out by that man’s actions.
So why is Peter sleeping soundly? It wasn’t because he knew what was going to happen next. Because when an angel jarred him awake and the chains fell from his wrists, when he was led out of the prison unseen by any of the guards watching, Peter didn’t actually believe his eyes. He thought it was a vision, a dream. It wasn’t until he was out in the city proper when the angel left him, when he was hit by the cold of the night air and the silence that hung there after the angel left that he realized this was really happening. It was real.
Peter escapes. God rescued him. The believers had not sat idle but had prayed continuously for his rescue. God answered those prayers. He was free, and he would live to see another day.
And shortly after this event, Herod himself was struck dead by God. Go ahead and read the rest of the chapter when you get home today. Herod, being puffed up by some sycophants, was called a god. And he just soaked it in. God had enough and struck him down for such arrogance. The man in “complete control” died, just like that.
And the gospel spread. News of Herod’s death only set it further ablaze as it burned through the nations. Everything that seemed hopeless was overturned.
Brothers and Sisters, this is why Peter was sleeping soundly that night. Because he had utter confidence that it was God, not Herod that was in control. Peter thought he would die, but that didn’t matter to him because God is unstoppable. Peter knew that Herod’s plan couldn’t succeed in wiping out the gospel truth of Jesus because it was God’s gospel, with the power of God behind it. He knew for a fact that the gospel, by God’s power, is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable. Every earthly power and authority came against him and it didn’t work because God didn’t allow it.
And before him, James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You remember James, right? He was the first one Herod arrested and succeeded in killing.
Wait, let me rephrase that. He was the first one Herod tried to kill.
Maybe this whole time you were thinking about him. Maybe you were thinking “Great for Peter, what about James? God didn’t seem so keen on miraculously rescuing him!”
He didn’t? James was a sinner after all. We can even find that in the Gospels, like the time he and his brother arrogantly asked for a higher position than the rest of the twelve with Jesus. James deserved to die. And more than die, he deserved to be cut off from God and his mercy forever. He deserved hell.
But instead of that, God himself endured hell for James. He went in James’ place. And in return, he gave James the credit of a life lived without sin, in complete obedience to God. Jesus did those things for James. He lived and he died for James.
Herod did everything in his human power to stop James. But it didn’t work. The Roman sword that pierced him was what ushered him into the eternal arms of his Father. He didn’t die. He lives, forever, free of all pain and suffering and most especially free from the burden of sin. Peter was rescued from a cell. James was rescued from this life of pain and tears.
Peter’s time for that came eventually of course, but the point is that neither of these men were failed by God. And neither of them were overcome by the forces of this world. By God’s power, by the power of the gospel message, the message about Jesus, they were unstoppable.
I hope, by now, you realize this is not just a story about Peter and James. This is about you, too.
The gospel is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
James, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You, by God’s power, are unstoppable.
I don’t mean you can leave this building and go do whatever you want; that’s relying on your power and it’ll fail you every time. But the power of the gospel in you cannot be stopped.
It is this simple. You know the truth, that God lived for you, died for you, and rose to life for you. Because Jesus lived, died, and rose for you, you are forgiven and God will take you to be with him forever. That’s the good news that you know and trust, that is the gospel.
And there is no power here on earth that can stop you. Nothing can tear Jesus away from you. No human or natural agent can separate you from God’s love. And literally nothing that happens to you here on this earth can take away the salvation that God has given you freely by this truth. You are already saved. You are already rescued. Nothing can take that away from you. With the gospel truth in you, you are unstoppable.
It’s important to remember this perspective when your life seems anything but unstoppable. I doubt any of us will experience a night in prison awaiting execution, but that doesn’t mean we don’t find ourselves in situations where we feel beaten down, pushed around, and tempted to lose hope because whatever earthly situation we find ourselves in is not looking like it’s going to work out.
The message here is not “that earthly situation is going to work out”. It’s not “God will definitely miraculously free you from that earthly prison.” The message is that God has already freed you from a much more deadly prison. And that even if things don’t go our way here, it all leads to the same end – victory.
The troubles, the trials, the forces of this world will scream that they are in control of your life, and they will try to imprison you and beat you down. It may even seem like they are in control. Things we value, people we care about, even our own health might be taken away. But they can’t stop you. Because you have God and he cannot be stopped. Because of Jesus, you have already won. And the message continues.
I’m not saying God will never help you here and now either. He absolutely will. But that’s not where our hope is. Our hope is not in being delivered from bad bosses or car troubles or crushing debt or inoperable cancer. When it seems like he isn’t helping, when it’s like he’s not trying to rescue you at all, remember: he already has. Come what may, you are already saved.
God’s goal is to get you and anyone else he can to know and trust the gospel message so you can be safely brought to heaven with him. That mission will not be stopped. And while you are still here, God has chosen you to carry out that mission. Share the message that makes you unstoppable. The message cannot be stopped. No matter what powers try to stifle it, they will never succeed. Share it with confidence and share it out of love for those who need it.
You are saved, you are unstoppable in him. Share the truth so others may know the same rock-solid comfort. That is the path God has put before you: to speak his truth so long as you can. You will not be stopped on that path so long as God wants you to run. You cannot be stopped from sharing the truth so long as you are here.
Brothers and sisters, our God saves. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop him from carrying out his mission in you and through you. The gospel will continue.
Brothers and sisters, our God has saved you. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop you from being welcomed into his arms when this is all over.
Brothers and sisters, go out today, wake up every day after this absolutely secure in the certainty of this truth: God and his gospel are unstoppable.