09 Life and Ministry of Apostle Paul
9th of series “Life and Ministry of Paul” – Sunday, February 3, 2019
Gary Miller, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Weatherford, Oklahoma
There’s an old saying that is sometimes been made about preachers – “Preachers need to be ready to preach, pray or die on a moment’s notice.” And sometimes I have felt that way.
When I came across that statement recently, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an experience that I had a number of years ago – maybe a few of you I have told this to. But it happened when Linda and I were in another state in the southeast part of the country. And we went to visit a church in the city in which all the folks – maybe a little over 100 or so, it wasn’t a large church – all of them in attendance were African-American. I think there was one other white Anglo lady there beside us. And when I met the pastor before the service, it quickly came out that he found out that I was a minister also. And right on the spot without knowing really anything about me, he threw me and he said, “Would you preach the message this morning?” And I was on vacation. I had my Bible with me. I had no notes, no sermon or anything. And I said, “Well”, you know, I didn’t know what to say. And I said, “Well, I might share a few words.” He said, “No.” He kept insisting, “Would you preach the message?” He said, “They can always hear me.” But he said, “Would you do it this morning?” Well, I reluctantly decided to give in, and I wondered to myself what I was getting myself into. But when it came time for me to get up there, I happened to remember is after he had asked me, I happened to remember that not too long before I had a pretty basic message with the outline, I kind of remembered the thing, and I felt like it would be appropriate to kind of use that and just take off from there. Well, I discovered in a little while that in a black church you don’t need any notes. And we had a wonderful time that morning. They had a lot of singing. And they were wonderful people. And God gave His blessing and enablement. And it was a joy to share with them. But I had to be ready to preach almost on a moment’s notice.
When the apostle Paul stopped in one of the cities that he and his fellow worker Barnabas visited on their first journey together, he too was given an on-the-spot invitation one day to speak to an audience. Paul didn’t waver. In fact, God used the message that Paul gave to really influence and speak to and impact lives. And we want to look at it this morning as we continue journeying together in the life and the ministry of Paul in the 13th chapter of the book of Acts.
It was sometime about near the midpoint of the first century, perhaps 45, 46, 47, maybe 48 AD, in the mid-40s we might say, when these two servants of the Lord are called by the Spirit in a gathering in the city of Antioch which was located off the coast just north of Jerusalem about 300 miles, to set out from Antioch to the work to which God had called them. Their first stop was Cyprus, and it was that island in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. That was the place, by the way, where Barnabas had come from. That was his roots. There they traveled throughout much of that island proclaiming the Word of God. They ended up on the western edge in the capital city of Paphos where they encountered the highest official of the island called the proconsul. And he wanted to hear the Word of the Lord, and before was before it was all over, he believed the message that they shared. What a wonderful thing that must have been.
Well, at some point they set out north to northwest and ended up about 175 or 200 miles just off the coast of the southern region that is called Pamphylia, or the southern coast of what was then Asia Minor, or today Turkey, a little port that was known as Perga. And from there verse 14 tells us that they went inland about 100 miles to another city that was called Antioch, but this one was referred to as Pisidian Antioch. It was in the region called Pisidia, in other words. And there is where we pick up the story this morning in the account in which they went into a Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath day and after the reading from the law and the prophets it tells us in verse 14, “The synagogue rulers sent word to them saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.’” And so, “Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and he said…”
And from the middle of verse 16 all the way through verse 41 we’re given what was basically the content of the message that Paul spoke to that audience. In fact, if you look in the book of Acts it is the first full message that we have a record about that he spoke. And even it probably is only a condensed form, because when you read through this message, as we’re going to do a just a moment, it only takes one or two minutes. And I’m sure Paul spoke a lot longer than that. There was another occasion in which we learn on another of his journeys that he preached until midnight, so much so that a guy fell out the window and couldn’t stay awake and he had to raise him back to life in the process. So I know Paul could do it.
In other occasions when he had preached in Damascus, when he had preached in Jerusalem, there’s only like a one-line synopsis of what he said. But here we have at least the essence and probably a lot of the words that he used. So powerful of a message was it that it literally shook the entire city. And if we jump ahead to when after he was finished in verse 44, which was a week later it says, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Now wouldn’t you like to have had a full report of what went on in those few days between this Sabbath and the next one in which by the next one almost the whole city comes out to hear the Word of God? What was going on during those days? – questions among the residents of the city, discussion, dialogue, maybe even some debate, not to say anything of the way that the Holy Spirit was moving upon the hearts of people who were desperately in need spiritually speaking. So what was it that Paul said the first time that would have stirred many of the locals, to use the old expression, to come out from under the woodwork, to stop everything and go and gather in this place, notice, to hear the Word of the Lord? What would cause them to do that? While there probably was a certain amount of passion and eloquence in the deliverance by Paul, what is even more noteworthy is what he said, the content, the substance of his message. And so I believe it is worthwhile for us to walk through what he said, because as we do we’re able to get a little bit more of what Paul’s relationship with God was and also through His holy Word.
And to do that, I think it would be good to read through these words by Luke. But keep in mind that these are just some of the words that he spoke. There was probably much more. But we need to look for key observations giving us insight into what Paul at this point had come to know of God’s Word, the Scripture, how he viewed it and then how he also handled and used it on this occasion.
So follow along. I have the text on screen or look in your Bibles before you, whichever version you may have as we begin reading at verse 6.
Acts 13:16b-41 (New International Version)
16Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, 19he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. 20All this took about 450 years.
"After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22After removing Saul, he made David their king. He 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.ʹ
23"From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25As John was completing his work, he said: `Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.ʹ
26"Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27The 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. 28Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead, 31and 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 fathers 33he 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.ʹ
34The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words:
"`I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.ʹ
35So it is stated elsewhere:
"`You will not let your Holy One see decay.ʹ
36"For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. 37But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
38"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. 41Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
"`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.ʹ"
And then Paul gave the invitation. No, it doesn’t say that, but as we’re going to see in a few moments, it’s almost like that happened.
I want you to notice several things that I think are key to observe in this message by Paul.
The 1st is – as he began to address them he recognized the makeup of his audience, that it was composed of both his fellow Jews as well as Gentiles. Gentiles here are called those who “fear” God, or God-fearers. The NIV that I read from a moment ago said those “who worship God”. It’s a title or a designation that was used to identify Gentiles who in some ways had already become a part of the Jewish assembly even though they were not Jewish in their background, and yet they had not become full converts or proselytes, as it sometimes called, to Judaism. And yet they were accepted enough that they could walk into the synagogue and they could sit down among Jewish people – maybe they had their own section, I don’t know – but they were still there in the same group and they could be there in attendance and participate in what was being done. The apostle again mentioned both of these groups down in verse 26 where he speaks of the “children” or the “sons of Abraham”, as well as the Gentiles who are God-fearing, but there he says that the “message of salvation” has been given to both. That will be significant a little further on.
There’s a 2nd thing that is noteworthy and that is that we see some striking parallels between what Paul presented in this message and what had been given some 12 to 15 years ago when Paul was one of the ones who heard the message that was given by Stephen back in Acts chapter 7. Stephen you recall was the first martyr of the church. And there he was brought up before the Jewish Council called the Sanhedrin. Paul was one of the members of that, you might say, elite group of 70 plus the high priest. And there Stephen had recounted, just like Paul was doing here, the history of Israel. There Stephen was trying to awaken these stubborn Jewish leaders to an understanding of God’s love and His concern and of His sovereign direction of their nation. And there was much more to Stephen’s message. A while back, a few Sundays back we just looked in brief at what the content or the substance of that message was about.
Now over time we are beginning to see that Paul never forgot Stephen’s words. It was like they had reached deep down into his heart. They had that cut into his soul to over time work over some of the bigotry and the egotism that had filled Paul for who he was. Those words by Stephen had even planted a seed of faith in his heart which contributed ultimately to his conversion. And so we see some parallels. That’s all I’m going to say about that but if you want to see more about that, go back sometime in the next few days and read Acts 13 and maybe with another copy of the Bible have Acts 7 and look at them together and you will see some of those parallels or those things that are in common.
A 3rd thing I want to point out – and I believe this is really what should stand out for us from this message by Paul on that Sabbath day – and that is how it was rooted in the Scriptures. It comes through quite clearly that the apostle had become well acquainted with the Word of God that he had at least up to this point. Remember now, the New Testament was just in the beginning stages. It had not even been recorded, so all that he had basically was the Old Testament. But Paul was well acquainted with it. He had done for himself personally what he would urge his readers in chapter 3 of his letter to the Colossians of letting “the word of God dwell in you richly.” That’s what Paul had experienced for himself – he had let the Word of God dwell in his own life richly.
And as a result, he had first of all a firm handle, a grasp on the Word of God, not just on parts of it here and there but rather a grasp on it in its totality, in the full picture going all the way back to the beginning up until what he had up to that point of time at this midpoint of the first century. We see that especially as he makes references to a number of different books of the of the Scriptures. He does not specifically state this, but there are events that occur that you know he’s referring to them from the book of Genesis and Exodus and Numbers and Joshua and Judges, from the books of Samuel and Kings and Chronicles, and he does mention specifically the book of Psalms. And beyond that, he also quoted from the prophets as well. The point being is that Paul had come to recognize and to view all of these as part of the full inspired Word of God. But not only that, he saw them, all those parts as being inseparably connected to each other. It wasn’t like there was just the book of Genesis all by itself, and here’s the book of Psalms, and so forth. They all had a connection, and there was a flow that goes from the beginning. We ought to be able to see that also as we learn to let the Word of God dwell richly within us as well.
Furthermore, he had learned not only to have a firm handle on the Scriptures but also to a great extent he had learned how to handle the Word of truth accurately. That is what he would later urge his spiritual son in the faith, Timothy, to do in 2nd Timothy chapter 2 and verse 15, “handling accurately the word of truth,” he would say. “Be diligent to present yourself as a workman that is approved unto God.” And that’s what Paul had done. He had given himself with great efforts to make sure that as he saw the Word of God, he was seeing it rightly, and he was interpreting it correctly because as he was going to be sharing this content from the Word of God, it needed to be as accurate as possible, else people might be led astray. One of the things that seems to come out right away is that Paul’s approach to the Scriptures was – he took the Scriptures for what they said literally. In other words, the historical events to which he made reference – he believed those historical events were real. They were not some myth that had been made up by someone, but they happened just as had been recorded about them. Also it’s clear that as he went through these passages of the Old Testament, he didn’t go looking for other meanings to words and phrases in verses, but he understood them in the plain and normal sense in which they were intended to be taken and understood. You’ve heard me talk about this on some occasions – the concerns that I have in recent times how there has come to be a movement among (should I say?) Christendom in which individuals, even in some evangelical circles, are taking certain parts of the Bible and they are allegorizing them, taking symbolic meanings that they don’t really mean “this”, they really mean something else. I don’t believe Paul did that at all. Now if there was something symbolical, that would of course be obvious. But as far as the totality of the Bible, when it said that God created the heavens and the earth, Paul believe that He created the heavens and the earth. And you could go on and on from there. That pattern, that model, by the way, is what each of us must always make is our aim to strive for as we handle the Word of truth ourselves.
Now we can glean a little bit more from what Paul said by just taking a quick overview. You’ll notice that the opening section of what he spoke about is kind of a skeletal outline of key events of Israel’s history. But I want you to notice something here that it’s not history as we oftentimes think about history in which people might write a record of certain facts that occurred on certain dates and times, but rather this was a history that was centered on God. And that really is what history is intended to be because God is behind it.
And so you will notice that when he lists off these various events as I put them here on screen, it’s God who is behind every one of them. He acted to choose our fathers to make the people prosper in Egypt, to bring them out. He endured their conduct for all those years in the desert, overthrowing nations in Canaan so that he might bring the Israelites into the land and give that land to them just as He had promised all the way back to Abraham. Then came the period of the judges. And then there came a point, that story which you can go back and forth on – Was that really a bright spot or maybe a dark spot in Israel history, in where they wanted a king so they could be like other nations. So God said, “I’ll give you a king,” and for 40 years they got their first king, Saul, and it wasn’t a good deal. After he removed Saul, He gave them David. And David was a special man. He was after God’s heart. He wasn’t perfect, far from it. He did a lot of evil things and yet he had a heart for God.
And then in verse 23 Paul leaped across 1000 years to the first century, kind of drew a straight line from David to Jesus. And there he spoke about how Christ had come from David. In fact that’s what he said in the opening lines of his letter to the Romans – that God’s Son “as to his human nature was a descendent of David” (Romans 1:3b). And the apostle identified what was the ultimate act of God in that he brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus, as He promised. That had been preceded by the witness of John who went out preaching and baptizing, and as we read, he even quoted what John had said, “I’m not the One; the One is coming,” and He came very soon after John. But then when Jesus did appear to bring salvation, Paul goes on to say in this message that there were many of the Jewish people and their rulers who did not recognize Him. Rather they condemned Him and thus they fulfilled what had previously been prophesied to the point that they finally executed Him. But unlike the body of David which had decayed, the body of Jesus would not see decay because God who had already raised up Jesus in the sense that He had sent Him into this world to His people, this time raised Him up in another way – He raised Him up from the dead. And so Paul declared that that was God’s crowning act. And all of this again was in fulfillment of various passages of the Old Testament Scriptures, and Paul cited them right there before the people. By the way, it was some of those very prophecies that I’m sure that many of these Jews who were in attendance that day in this synagogue and the city in Antioch had probably heard a number of times, had read to them during the synagogue services, just has had occurred a few moments before Paul was invited to speak. The Jewish people should have known and understood these prophecies. But because the reading of the Old Testament Scriptures had kind of come to be more than a ritual, their spiritual senses had been dulled and they failed to recognize that these Scriptures pointed to the coming of the Son of God, the promised Messiah.
By the way, the same kind of thing happens all too often with some of us as people of God in Christian settings today. We can come in contact with the Scriptures, we can read the words on the page, we can hear them being spoken, but our senses kind of become dull, become used to it, and we don’t really pick up the message and understand it. So before we’re too hard on these Jews there in Pisidian Antioch, remember that all of us are susceptible to the same thing.
But then Paul brought his message to a climax by noting, by making a strong contrast from what they thought was the way to God, which was trying to obey the law that God had given through Moses, which really wasn’t the way of God, that there was only one way and that way was through Jesus. And Paul says He’s not only the One who can forgive sins but He also could justify everyone who believes in Him – “through Him everyone who believes is justified” (Acts 13:39a). Here’s where Paul brings into the forefront one of the great terms that he would write about on a few other occasions, particularly in the book of Romans and in the book of Galatians. To be justified means that God has declared guilty sinners righteous, not because of anything they have done it because of what Christ has done. In other words, it speaks of a new standing before God. You may have heard it said before that the word justified maybe could be used, if you break up the word, to mean – just-as-if-I’d never sinned. And it does mean that, but it means more. It means not only am I like I would’ve been if I had never sinned, but rather I have been given the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I’ve been declared righteous. When God sees me, He sees Jesus because of my belief in Him. The law could never do any of that. All the law could do, Paul says, was condemn sinful people.
Now by the time Paul gets to this point this has to be good news, at least to some who were there that day, both of the Jews as well as the Gentiles. I’m sure there were many who did not have the true peace of God in their hearts. There were likely many who are searching for answers that Paul was giving them.
And then Paul wraps it up with a warning, an interesting warning where he cites from the book of Habakkuk. I wonder how many times we have used the book of Habakkuk – hard enough to pronounce that name, isn’t it? A great old prophet, just a few pages there in the latter portion of our Old Testaments. And he quotes from a passage which spoke of how in a time that was several centuries earlier, before this and before Jesus, how God had raised up a pagan nation to move in and punish His people, Israel, His chosen people. And Habakkuk says there, “I’m going to do a work in your day – it’s going to be so remarkable that you wouldn’t believe it even if you were told.” That’s how Jews would have viewed that – no way could God ever use a pagan people to come against us! But He did.
Well, Paul was kind of turning the tables here and inferring another work of wonder – that God was now using the Jews to save Gentile peoples. And so Paul maybe continued – I don’t know where his endpoint was. This is what we have at least as far as the record by Luke is concerned. But when the Sabbath service was over, we read what happened next in verses 42 and 43, “As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue the people invited him to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 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.”
Now while it’s true that Paul was probably very persuasive in his presentation – and that’s not too surprising to try to imagine how persuasive Paul could be, because remember his background. He was highly educated. He was highly steeped in the Old Testament law. He knew it forward and backwards. And so he could have been very persuasive. But I want to suggest to you – it wasn’t Paul. This was the Holy Spirit who had captivated the hearts of many in that assembly, and He captivated them with a message of grace. That’s what was coming through – the message of grace, so much so that they wanted more.
And so when the next Sabbath came around seven days later, in between as I was mentioning a moment ago, word had spread to the point that as verse 44 says that “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.”
Notice what it was that drew people – it wasn’t Paul. And if Paul would have had some kind of special group that was there to precede him, it wouldn’t have been them either. Or if Paul would have had some kind of flashy entertainment that went along with it, it wasn’t that. They came to hear the Word of Lord. They had gotten a taste of it the week before. Because it’s the word of God that really reaches into the hearts of people who are empty, who are hungry for the bread of life and thirsty for the water of life. I’ve said this before – it’s not that there’s anything wrong with some of those other things, but there should never be a diminishing of the promotion of the Word of God.
It says here that “almost the whole city gathered.” There was a faction that wasn’t really excited about this. Verse 45 – “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and they talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” Now these were the unbelieving Jews. They were dug into their traditions and their beliefs, just as Paul had once been, and they weren’t about to sit back and let Paul and Barnabas take over and allow their synagogue to be used as outsiders and then speak of a salvation that was open not to just Jews but also Gentiles as well.
Verses 46-49 say, “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. 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.’ ”
(There he is citing from the prophet Isaiah.)
“When the Gentiles heard this they were glad and they honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
“The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.”
You see, it had been the right thing for Jews to have the first crack, the first opportunity of hearing and believing the good news. And had they accepted it, then they could’ve reached out to their Gentile neighbors and friends and acquaintances. And all of that would have been a fulfillment of the words that Paul was quoting here from Isaiah 49 and verse 6. The problem was some of them did not receive the light. And when they did not, then there were others like these Gentiles who were given the opportunity, and they indeed received it. And like a fire, the light of Christ became widespread.
The chapter concludes in this way – this is what happens before Paul moves on to his next stop.
“But the Jews 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 the region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Act 13:50-52, NIV)
You’ve all probably heard the expression – “Where there’s light, there’s bugs.” In this case the brighter the light of Paul’s message, the more intense the bugs were. But these bugs had stingers that were filled with poison. And so these Jews went after this duo hard, even driving them out of town, in fact out of the region. No more details are given to us. It just says there they were expelled. This was a scene, though, that could have well been on the edge of being graphic. In fact there are some Bible commentators and scholars who believe that this is one of those occasions in which Paul was given one of his raw beatings that he was given. If he was, Luke doesn’t tell us because later on he’s going to be given one.
But what was the response of Paul and Barnabas? Well, if it would have been me, I would have said, “Forget you all, I’m out of here! I’m on my way. Maybe I’m just going to go home and forget about any more of this journey.” In what seems a little humorous if we try to picture what goes on next, it says, “They shook the dust from their feet in protest.” You might recall that Jesus had once told his disciples that that’s what they could do if there was a town that would not receive Him. It was a graphic expression of separating oneself from a bunch like this. And that’s what Paul and Barnabas were doing.
And so they head off to the next city. It’s going to be about 90 miles away. And they’re going to start all over there. And as they did, they left behind a bunch of new believers in Christ who now had the joy of the Lord and were filled with the Spirit, as they themselves were as they trudged onward.
You know what I find interesting about Paul is that Paul was not a quitter. Even when things were going rough or things were going against him, he stood firm. He did not back down. I’m reminded of those words that he gives to us at the end of 1st Corinthians chapter 15 and verse 58, where after speaking about the resurrection and the coming day of a resurrection when Jesus Christ is going to return and when death the old enemy is going to be destroyed, never to be death again, as he comes to the conclusion of all this he begins verse 58 of 1st Corinthians 15 with the word “therefore” – “on the basis of all that I’ve said up to this point here’s what you do.” “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.” Paul stood firm, didn’t he? “Let nothing move you.” Even sleazy old Jewish leaders who are out there to get him did not move him. “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” What was true for Paul and what he also expressed in those words is still true for us today, isn’t it? And God wants to reward His people as they stand firm for Him and give themselves to Him no matter what it is. It won’t always be easy, will it? But it will always end up being rewarded.
Our Heavenly Father, we thank You so much for this powerful account that shows us something about Paul and how he related to You and related to what You gave in Your Holy Word. I pray for forgiveness for myself personally, for all of us sometimes when we have a view about Scripture that is not as high as it should be. I pray that as we go along life’s way that we will grow in God’s grace and in the knowledge of His Word. Maybe we won’t always be able to have everything down like Paul was able to do but that we will still be advancing to where as we saw in that one statement – that His Word dwells richly within us. And so I pray that You will use that word within us, not just for selfish purposes but so that we can also communicate that to others, to let others know this is what we stand for, this is what we hold to, and also to share how it is that they can come to know You through Your Word as well. We pray this in Christ’s wonderful and glorious name. Amen.