Spreading the Word (By Les Kovacs)
Text: Acts 13 - 14
Observe: In these chapters, we get an account of Paul’s first journey through Asia Minor. He is accompanied by several other disciples; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, and Manean. Once in Antioch, the Holy Spirit sends Paul and Barnabas further and, after being blessed by the believers there, they sail to Cyprus. On the island Paul and Barnabas travel around to the various cities and preach the gospel in the Jewish synagogues. Even the Roman proconsul wants to hear them speak, but a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet attempts to stop them, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul causes him to become blind. Seeing this, and hearing Paul’s amazing teaching, the proconsul became a believer.
Moving on to Pisidian Antioch and speaking at the synagogue, Paul addresses both the Jews and the Gentiles who worship God. He gave them a very brief history of Israel from the time of the Exodus all the way through to the coming of Jesus. He then explained how the people and their religious leaders did not recognize Him, and ecen though they could not find any fault in Him, they had Him executed, and in so doing, fulfilled all that had been written about Him. After He was laid in the tomb, God raised Jesus from the dead, and He was seen by many who have become His witnesses. Using several scripture references, Paul explained the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, and how He brought forgiveness of our sins, which could not be obtained through the Law of Moses. The people were so convinced of Paul’s teaching that they invited him back to speak again on the next Sabbath. However the Jewish leaders were jealous of the crowds Paul was able to draw, and so they began to contradict and insult him. Paul answered them boldly by telling them that if they wouldn’t listen, he take the good news to the Gentiles, who were more than happy to hear him. In the end, the Jews threw Paul and Barnabas out of the region.
From there, the two travelled to Iconium, where they again began to preach in the synagogues and performing signs empowered by the Holy Spirit. Once again the local leaders rose up in opposition to their teaching. As a result, some of the people sided with the Jews and some sided with the apostles. Here too, the leaders plotted to kill them, but Paul and Barnabas were warned and they fled to Lycaonia, where they were able to continue their work for the Lord. In Lystra, Paul was enabled by God to heal a lame man, and when the people saw it, they claimed that the pagan gods Zeus and Hermes had come down them. Paul and Barnabas rushed to dissuade them of their wrong ideas, telling them that they just as human as they were, and that they were preaching the gospel of the living God, the Creator and Preserver of all things.
However, as had happened in other places they had preached, some Jews came and persuaded the crowd to stone Paul and drag him from the city, where they left him for dead. However, he wasn’t dead, and was able to make his way back to Barnabas, and the next day they left for another city, Derbe. Here, by their preaching, they were able to win a large number of new disciples. From there, the two journeyed through several more cities preaching and encouraging the believers. They also appointed elders for each new church they planted Upon their return to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas gave a full account of their journey to the gathered church, and how God had opened the way for Gentiles to join in the true faith.
Interpret: Wherever the Holy Spirit sent them, whether by sail or by foot, they went. And wherever they went, Paul and Barnabas tirelessly and boldly preached the good news of the gospel of Jesus. Not surprisingly, they were also often met by opposition from the local Jewish leaders, who were jealous of the following Paul was able to create because it was a threat to their own power and leadership. Whereas many of the people were open to receiving the gospel, the leaders were more interested in maintaining the status quo, and often plotted to get rid of the two troublemakers, sometimes successfully, but often not. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas, empowered by the Holy Spirit, pressed on and won many disciples for Christ travels on their journey.
As we read of Paul and Barnabas’ travels and the incidents that occurred, we can see parallels to the travels of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as He journeyed from town to town teaching, preaching, and healing the sick, many people came to believe His message of salvation, but, He also stirred up opposition to His message that the Kingdom of God had come near. Rather than accept the truth of Jesus as God’s promised Messiah, the Jewish leaders perceived Him to be a threat to their established order, and sought ways to get rid of Him. Jesus had warned His disciples that they too would face opposition and persecution when spreading the gospel story, and that is exactly what Paul and the other apostles encountered as they took the good news to the far reaches of the known world. Yet, despite these hardships, the faithful apostles did succeed in winning great numbers of new believers to Christ, and were filled with great joy.
Application: The message of the gospel, which is the hope of salvation through repentance and belief that Jesus died for our sins, is not an easy one to hear and accept. It wasn’t easy two thousand years ago, and it’s not easy today. It requires us to admit that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Roman 3:23. It requires us to admit that one day we will have to give an account of our lives before God, Rom 14:12. It requires us to give up authority over our own lives and live for Jesus as a new creation, 2 Cor 5:17.
Many people, when they hear this gospel story, find that it makes perfect sense to them and accept it wholeheartedly, but others feel threatened by it, and are not willing to cede their pride, possessions and power to a merciful and gracious God. They refuse to see past the dim light of this world, and miss the glory of coming King.
When we share the gospel story with others in our sphere of influence, we must do it in the power of the Holy Spirit and do it with bold conviction. But we must be ready to face opposition too, perhaps not as forcefully as Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles did, but it will be there. So, be joyful when someone you share it with hears and accepts, and just shake the dust off your feet when they don’t.
Questions: Are you willing to take the risk of sharing the message of hope in Jesus with someone who may not have heard it before? Are you willing to trust that God will guide you?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that your Holy Spirit would empower us when we share the Gospel of Jesus with those who have not heard it before. Help us to speak your words with courage, compassion and conviction. Help us to glorify your holy name in all that we say and do to build your kingdom. This we pray in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.