Tying Up those Old Testament Loose Ends – Acts 13:13-52

A couple of years ago when I was coaching high school cross country, I was the regional meet director for Western Maryland. A part of this task was to join with other regional directors and put together our combined results and prepare for the state championships the following Saturday. This meeting was held on a Sunday morning at a hotel conference room somewhere in central Maryland. So I had to take a day off … though as it turned out, it really was not that complicated nor time-consuming, and I probably didn’t actually need to attend.

In some other conference rooms down the hall, it was clearly audible that a church worship service had begun; and it was very energetic sounding. Seeing I was no longer needed at the state cross country meeting, I ventured down the hall, not quite sure what kind of church I was going to encounter on the other side of the closed door. It turned out to be a very ethnic church, and I was instantly a minority of one! At a break in their worship service, there was this time where EVERY person in the room went around and hugged EVERY other person in the room. I guess my story as to why I was there came out in that time, because later in the service, I was called upon to come up front and share a word of greeting and encouragement from the Word! It was quite a fun experience

My adventure is somewhat similar to what we see in the Scripture passage today as Paul and Barnabas continue in the early stages of what we know as “The First Missionary Journey” – visiting a synagogue service in Antioch of Pisidia (this is in modern day Turkey, whereas the Antioch from which they were sent out was in Syria). As men with educated backgrounds in Judaism – known evidently through some conversation – they were called upon to give a word of exhortation from the Scriptures that were read that day.

Paul stands and basically takes his listeners through a summary of what in Bible College or Seminary would be a class called “OT-101” (Survey of Old Testament History).  He took them quickly from the time of God’s choosing of Israel to that of King David. Paul then jumps them right to David’s ultimate SON – Jesus, who is the fulfillment of all that was written in the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul tells them how the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem messed up completely by having Christ put to death, though in the larger plan of God, this opens the door not only to Jews who receive Christ, but Gentiles and all men everywhere who trust in faith.

The application of the sermon was that Paul encouraged the listeners to not make the same mistakes of so many of their ancestors (like in verse 41 – which quotes from the prophet Habakkuk), but to rather see and acknowledge that in Jesus the Christ – all the loose ends and varied prophecies and details come together in one new, great truth.

Wow, what a message! Totally dramatic new teachings! There was no way such a radical presentation could not stir up a range of reactions. Immediately a group of people are excited and follow them out the door – asking questions and desiring them to return the next week. Seven days later, “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” And the response is the same as can be noted in multiple places in Acts (and is likewise the 3-part response to the preaching of the Gospel in our day):  Some believe (on this occasion, quite a few!), some remain seekers, and many scoff and reject.

Those who do the rejecting in this story do so quite vociferously, as these traditional Jewish leaders see their whole world being turned upside-down. The persecution they engender drives Paul and Barnabas out of town and on to the next location.

We will share this thought again and again: we should not be surprised at persecution and opposition – it is normal. Certainly the early believers saw it this way, because rather than being blown away by it,“… the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

In Pisidian Antioch – Acts 13:13-52

13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”

16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.

“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

“‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’

34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’

35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’

36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’”

42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.

46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “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. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

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God’s Mission: Lighting the Darkness (Acts 13:1-13)

A NEW MISSION

In this passage, Luke records the birth of “foreign missions.”  Up until now, mission to the Gentiles had been a result of God’s provision more than man’s purpose.   The early church was blessed with many skilled teachers.  Now God called them to be missionaries.

Acts 13:1-3  Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Where do we expect change to come from?  For some, we expect change to come from the mouth of a skilled politician.  For others, from the united voice of grass-roots movements such as the Tea Party or Occupy group.  But do we believe that God can change the world?  If we do, that changes everything.   When God set aside Barnabas and Saul (later called Paul), it was out of a clear intention: God empowers the few to impact the many.

The prayers of the church confirmed this new mission.  Their identity as God’s representatives had not changed, but there was now new work to be done.

A NEW CULTURE

The men travel to the island of Cyprus.  Since the days of Alexander the Great, the Jews had been migrating to this island.  There, they shared the gospel in several cities:

Acts 13:4-12  So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.  5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.  6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.  7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.  8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.  9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him  10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?  11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.  12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Paphos was an interesting place.   It was there that the religions of ancient Greece blurred together with Jewish beliefs.  We meet two characters:

  • Bar-Jesus: Though God’s word condemned such practices, magic was known to be a part of Jewish folk religion.   “Elymas” was his title.  It most literally means “wise,” probably referring to his magical insight.  His actual name was Bar-Jesus—literally meaning “son of Jesus/Joshua”—so it’s ironic that Paul would call him a “son of the devil.”  Paul confronts and God intervenes. Bar-Jesus is temporarily blind.  No one would not sit in this man’s darkness as Paul brings a message of light.
  • Sergius Paulus: He was a prominent Roman official.  History tells us that he was in charge of water management.  Apparently Bar-Jesus had been his spiritual advisor.  When Paul removed this source of darkness, he experienced the true light of the gospel.

Sadly, we know nothing more about what happened in this community. But do you see God’s plan at work?    God used these early missionaries to transform a culture from the top down.   The leadership was transformed by the gospel—not influenced by a deceptive spiritual advisor.

We must therefore pray for similar transformations to take place, both near and far.  The mission of the gospel is lighting up the darkness—bringing the Light of the World into the darkest corners of our culture.  Let’s pray that this light would continue to spread.