Skip Heitzig - Acts 13:16-14:28
- Buy this sermon
Father, now we deliberately calm and still our hearts, pushing away any device or any thought that would distract us from you. And I think of the words that this book of acts begins with. The former treatise that I wrote to you oh, Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and teach. And I think about the possibility that is found in that verse alone, that Jesus began something. He started something and he's not done. And today there is a continuation of those things, Father, through now, our lives. And so, Father, we're praying that you'd inspire us to pick up the torch, to pick up the mantle, and to continue by the power of your Holy Spirit. The same spirit available to the early apostles, the early followers, the early converts, is available to us and for us today. And so we pray, Father, that more great things would be noted and written, because you have used our lives for your purposes. May we find what that purpose is, and glory in your power in and through us. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Well, we left off right in the middle of Paul the Apostle's sermon, in Antioch of Pisidia. Now these are names. I don't expect you to remember them. If you do remember them, I like those names. I actually look at them and try to remember where they're at. A couple of these places I've been to, so they're in my head. But the chapter opened up, the previous chapter, in Antioch of Syria, and closed in Antioch of Pisidia. And that's where we were last time when Paul was preaching the very first sermon recorded, that Paul spoke. I'm sure he spoke at other times, but as far as something recorded, and it seems to be recorded in its totality.
So I like that. I love being able to study Paul's style of communication, when Christianity first started. This radical rabbi radically transformed, gives a message of grace and faith that was, at that time, absolutely radical. Not so much anymore, we've heard it. And unfortunately, we've heard it so often that we fail to recognize how revolutionary it is. But this is the first recorded sermon of the apostle, Paul, who was known as Saul. And is now, as we saw last time, his name has been re-regarded as Paul the Apostle.
I remember my first sermon. It wasn't anything remarkable. And it was something that I prepared for. I was scared to do. It was a home Bible study, at a friend's rented house. A few people on the living room floor. I was sweating bullets. But I got enough positive feedback from that first message, that I was encouraged to do it again. So I loved the idea of studying and teaching the word. And then the first sermon I ever preached at a church, I was tricked into doing by the pastor who, was a mentor at the time, was starting a young church plant in this area. Invited me to come on a Sunday night to fill in for him, while he was out of town. He left town. I began to speak on the book of Jonah chapter one. I told you the story, but it's dear to my heart. He walks in the middle of the message, and he's sitting in the back.
Now I'm just really nervous. I was like, wait a minute, you were supposed to be out of town. Well, he was, but he was also coming back from out of town that night. And he got half the message. So afterwards he's walking right toward me and I'm going, uh oh, I really blew it. Because he's looking at me very intensely. I said something wrong, some false doctrine and I'm going to be stoned after church. I don't know. And he said, tonight you covered Jonah chapter one. I'm thinking, OK, keen eye for the obvious. But he said, you would do a disservice to these people if you stopped at Jonah chapter one. I think you need to come back and do Jonah chapter 2 next week. And perhaps, finish the book as well.
So then I understood what his trick was. He invited me. He wanted to hear how I did. And I must have said something that he thought, well, I'll give him a shot next time. So the first one was in a home Bible study. The first one at a church, I was tricked into. But then someone a few years ago handed me a cassette tape. Do you remember those? Now they're usually found in museums. And you have to buy them on eBay I think now. I don't think you can get them anywhere. But we used to record things on this medium called cassette tapes, believe it or not. And somebody handed me a cassette tape of me doing a message, at the church that I started out at, in California for another small Bible study. And I plugged it in and I listened to it. I found a tape deck somewhere, and I listened to it. And it's like, oh, it was so embarrassing. So we're looking at Paul's first message much better than any of mine ever were or are. And he's about 10 years old in the Lord.
Now Paul's in the synagogue. Remember his style. He goes into a town. He's Jewish. He has a Jewish rabbinical background. He looks for the synagogue, goes there first. Why? Because he has a belief, and it's his m.o. And later on he will describe what that m.o. is. It's to the Jew first, and then also to the Gentile. So he always extends the gospel first to the Jewish community. Because after all, the Messiah was promised in Jewish scripture, fulfilling Jewish prophecy. It is the messiah for that nation. But then also to the Gentiles. So first to the Jew, also to the Gentile.
Last time I told you that every synagogue in antiquity had a liturgy, a format. It began with a prayer called shema from the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, oh, Israel. The Lord, our God. The Lord is one. That was always the declaration it began with. Prayer was then offered by the head of the synagogue service. Followed by a reading from the law, the Torah. Followed by a reading from haftarah, which is another portion of the scripture. Followed by what was called the drasha, which was a rabbinical commentary on the text that was read, either by the one who is conducting the service. Or in some cases, by visiting rabbis. Well, Saul of Tarsus happens to be in town. Word gets out, he's not only Jewish, but he's a rabbi. He gets to come up and give that little commentary at the synagogue service. And now we read what it is.
So we're going to begin in verse 16, because that's where the message began. And last time I even gave you the outline of his message. So he's giving the background of the Jewish nation, verse 16. Then Paul stood up. Motioning with his hand he said, men of Israel and you who fear God. Those were Gentile converts to Judaism. God fearers they were called. Listen, so he gets her attention. Listen, the God of this people Israel, chose our fathers. And exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt. With an uplifted arm he brought them. out of it.
Now for a time of about 40 years, he put up with their ways in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he distributed their land to them by allotment. After that he gave them judges, for about 450 years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward, they asked for a King. So God gave them Saul, the son of Kish. A man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. And when he had removed him, he raised up for them, David. A King to whom also he gave testimony and said, I have found David, the son of Jesse. A man after my own heart, who will do all my will. From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior, Jesus.
It takes Paul the Apostle eight verses to get to Jesus. Eight sentences. He begins with the Exodus of Egypt. How that God chose Israel as a special group of people from all the people on earth. Brought them out of Egypt. Delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. He takes them right into the kingdom years. The United Kingdom under the first King, Saul. He was rejected. God raised up David. And then from David he goes right to Christ. It's a natural transition. Jesus is related to King David. Jesus is the progeny of David. One of the genealogical heirs of the promise. So since he is from that lineage, he goes right to Christ. So we're seeing a few things about the way Paul preached. And if you communicate Bible truth, it's good to make note of these.
First of all he is anchored in scripture. He goes back, briefly albeit, but through the scriptural account of God choosing them, delivering them, raising up leaders, etc. He's anchored in the Bible. Later on when Paul writes to Timothy, and he tells him to preach, he's very direct. He said, preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Rebuke, encourage, etc., with all long suffering and doctrine. But he says, preach the word. He didn't say, Timothy preach your own feelings about things. Or preach your own opinion about God. Or preach clever little sayings that will get people really riled up, and really stoked. He says, when you proclaim make sure you preach the word. It should be anchored in scripture.
And that sounds so fundamental. But it's so rare, especially in these days, to find preachers who preach the word. Paul preached the word. So it's anchored in scripture. Something else to notice, it's centered on promise. He's showing how that God delivered them all the way to Jesus, whom God, in the Old Testament, promised would be the deliverer. And identifies him quickly in just eight verses. So this is important that the New Testament, the new covenant in Christ, is directly related to the promises that God made in the old covenant. So he's speaking to Jewish people. All they know, all they have. There is no New Testament letters or books circulating at that time, among these synagogues. So they have just the Old Testament. He's showing them that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus.
One of the things that God, in the Old Testament, promised concerning the nation of Israel, is that they would be a light to the Gentiles. God said, I'm going to make Israel, my people, a light to the Gentiles, to bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. One of the reasons God chose the Jews, delivered them out of Egypt, brought them into a land called, the land of Israel, is so that they could take the knowledge of God and spread it. Not just to Jewish people, but to Gentiles as well. He wanted the Jews to be the light of the world. They failed. They became insular. They turned inward. And they regarded themselves as chosen, thus everyone else not chosen.
So God raised up Jesus, who said, I am the light of the world. He did what they never fulfilled. God's intention was to make them a light. Jesus became the light of the world. So again, he does that in eight verses. And I love that. He focused on Jesus Christ. I think it was Charles Spurgeon, who said, I announced my text that I'm going to preach. And then I make a beeline for the cross. No matter what text it is, I always show them how it relates to the cross. I make a beeline to the cross. So in eight verses, Paul begins with the Exodus in Egypt, makes a beeline to the cross, through the United Kingdom, raising up Saul, the first King. Raising up David in his place. And then his heir, Jesus.
Verse 24, after John had first preached before his coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course he said, who do you think I am. I am not he. But behold there comes one after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose. Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, can you see them looking around the synagogue, and those among you who fear God. The Gentiles who are hanging out in the back of the synagogue. To you, the word of this salvation has been sent. For those who dwell in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not know him, nor even the voices of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled in condemning him. And though they found no cause for death in him, they asked pilot, that he should be put to death.
Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are witnesses to the people. And we declare to you, glad tidings. That's what gospel means. To preach the gospel is to preach glad tidings, good news. Some people hear the word gospel and the go, oh, bummer. It's going to be a real sad thing he's going to say. It's going to be a bummer.
It's good news, man. It's glad tidings. Therefore, when we share with people, would you please share with people like it really is good news. Glad tidings, the gospel, that promise, which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us, their children. In that, he has raised up Jesus. As it also is written in the second Psalm, you are my son. Today I have begotten you, quoting scripture. And that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption. He has spoken thus. I will give you the sure mercies of David. Therefore he also says in another Psalm, you will not allow your Holy One to see corruption, a prophecy of the Resurrection.
For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep. And was buried with his fathers, and he saw corruption. But he whom God raised up, that is Jesus, saw no corruption. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this man, capital M in my Bible speaking of Christ, through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.
Now watch this. And by him every one who believes is justified from all things, which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. Now verse 39 is a startling statement. The people in the synagogue that day were shaken by what he said in that verse alone. Jesus Christ, the one who is from the line of David, the Jewish messiah, the one proclaimed in our scriptures, has died and has risen from the dead. And by trusting in Him, you can be justified from all the things that the law of Moses, which you love, and revere, and follow, cannot justify you in. It was Earth shattering to them. Because they always look to the law, the covenant of the law, and their relationship as Jews before God, as the means of their salvation.
Now Paul is going to develop this little thing that he talks about here, this gospel of grace, he's going to develop this, that he shares in one verse, he's going to develop it in an entire book, called The book of Romans. He'll go into depth. It will be truth after truth, going through Judaism, unlocking question and answer. A great theological treatise, and he'll cover it also in the book of Galatians. But here he gives it in a single verse.
What he's saying is this. The law is good. The law served its purpose. But it cannot do what you think it can do. And the reason the law is good, is that the law reveals that you are a filthy sinner. That's all I can do. It can't cleanse you from it. It just reveals that that's what you are. It can't remedy the condition, it can just reveal the condition. It's like looking in a mirror. You look in the mirror and you go, I need help. I can't speak for you. I know that's what I say when I look in the mirror. You know, I always think, I feel like I'm 20 years old. And then I look in the mirror and go uh-oh.
Now, the mirror is doing its job. I can't fault the mirror for the way I look. I can't say, you stupid, ugly mirror. You're worthless. Because the mirror has done its job. It's just told me the truth about me. Now, if I look to the mirror to remedy my condition, that's the problem. If I look to the law of Moses to remedy my condition as a sinner it won't work. It will reveal my condition. Paul said in the book of Romans, I would not have known sin unless it was through the law. So again, it's like an x-ray. You go to the doctor, and you're not feeling right. You go get an x-ray. The x-ray reveals, perhaps, a condition like a broken bone. Oh, this is why that arm hurts so much. I have a broken bone.
Now, if you try to take the x-ray, and like, wrap it around you, tape it up, thinking, great. That'll do it. That'll fix it. My x-ray that revealed my brokenness is going to fix me. That's folly. The x-ray reveals your condition. It can't remedy your condition. The law of Moses reveal, it's like an x-ray of the heart, it reveals your brokenness. But it can't fix it. So the law, Paul said in Galatians, was a schoolmaster, Protatakas, one who would lead us to Christ, a tutor who would lead us to Christ. Someone who would walk us along the way telling us that we need to go to Christ to remedy our condition. So, "everyone who believes is justified."
I'm not going to get into the depth of that word, but you may want to write in the margin of your Bible, Romans, chapter 5, verse 1, therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. You are justified, just as if you had never sinned. "He who believes is justified from all the things which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you."
Now he is making application and appeal in his message. And here it is, he's quoting again, "Behold you despisers, marvel and perish. For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe though one were to declare it to you." Interesting text of scripture that Paul brings up in concluding his sermon. He's pulling out a reference from the book of Habakkuk, or Habakkuk, depending on what part of the country you're from.
So Habakkuk was that prophet, one of the minor prophets. He's called a minor prophet, but he was really in the major leagues. So Habakkuk was complaining one day because the nation that he was in, the people of Judah, the people around Jerusalem, were sinful, and breaking God's laws, and filthy, and corrupt. And Habakkuk, the prophet, says, God, I don't know why you see all this corruption in our country, and you don't do anything about it.
And so God says, well, Habakkuk, it's a funny thing. But I'm going to work a work in your midst that even if I were to tell you, you wouldn't believe. So he goes, oh, wow. Well, tell me what it is. He goes, I'm going to raise up the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, to come and destroy this land. That's not a thing to clap at. It's going to destroy and judge these people.
So now Habakkuk gets all bent out of shape. He goes, now God, now why would you do something like that? I mean, OK, we're bad. But they're like really bad, and they're Babylonians. They're godless. They practice idolatry. Why would you raze somebody more wicked? I mean, we're wicked, but they're like way wicked. Why would you allow somebody more wicked than we to be our judgment, to be your chastening rod against us? Then we get to chapter 2. And the key verse that Paul will base the book of Romans on is written in Habakkuk, chapter 2, verse 4, "the just shall live by faith." So he's bringing up this prophecy in Habakkuk, basically saying what Habakkuk said to the people from God, you need to change, or you're going to perish.
If you believe, and you remain in faith, trusting in God, you're going to be OK. But unless you do that, you're going to be judged. So he pulls out Habakkuk, chapter 1, verse 5, which leads us to chapter 2, verse 4, "the just shall live by faith." I find it interesting. Verse 42, "So when the Jews went out of the synagogue", synagogue service is over, church is over, "the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath." Can I just say anybody who begs a preacher to preach scores high points in my book. Here they're saying, please, preacher, preach that message again. Wow. I mean, that's like music to our ears.
So these Gentiles had never heard the gospel of grace before. They were God-fearers. They're listening in the synagogue every week to Jewish sermons about the Torah, the law, the psalms, et cetera. Do this, don't do that. Be a good person. Don't be a bad person, et cetera. Now Paul comes along, blows it out of the water, says all you need to do is trust in Jesus. Believe by faith, and you'll be justified and cleansed. You don't have to go through all of these rituals, all of this legalism.
Now the Gentiles hear this and go, we want some more of that. Bring that stuff on. Don't stop there. "So they begged that they might be preached to them the next Sabbath. So when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes, converts to Judaism, followed Paul and Barnabas, whose speaking to them persuaded them to continue in the grace of God." Please mark that. Not continue in the law of God, but continue in the grace of God. Because this is the gospel of grace he's preaching.
John, chapter 1, "for the law came by Moses but," anybody, "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." The comparison of those two covenants, the covenant of the law, covenant of grace. Most people can't handle the pure gospel of grace. Either they don't understand it and think it's license to do whatever you want, or they're insulted because, after all, it has to be up to me. I got to work my way to heaven, work my way to God, make God like me. So they have a problem with just the sheer, unmerited favor of God. But I'll tell you what the gospel of grace does. It does two things. Number one, it reveals your utter helpless condition. You cannot get to God, so something must be done for you.
And number two, it shows us the sheer unlimited favor that God is willing to bestow upon you. He loves anybody, everybody, all the time. So it shows you and I your helpless condition, God's limitless love and kindness. "So they persuaded him, 'Continue in the grace of God.' On the next Sabbath, almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God." Oh, sounds so wonderful. "But when the Jews saw the multitudes they were filled with envy." There's envy. We talked about that this last weekend. "And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul."
Whenever God does a work, the devil does a work. Find God's work, you'll find the devil's work. Every action brings an equal and opposite reaction. You learned that in school. When God is at work, you'll find the devil trying to counteract that work. And here he does it through this religious system.
Think of Nehemiah building the wall in the Old Testament. He's building it. That's what God wants him to do. He's empowered by the spirit. He's come hundreds of miles from Persia to Jerusalem. Only 50,000 Jews return. God gives him the power and the strength to get the right people to do it together. But there's a guy named Sanballat and Tobiah who ridicule the Jews, and try to stop the work, sending letters to Persia, doing everything they can to halt the work of God in Jerusalem.
So whenever you find the work of God don't be surprised when you find the work of the devil. Now why is this important? Because too many Christians are so naive in this. And they go, well, you know, I'm trying to do this. But it's not working out very smoothly. So that must mean God's not in this. Well, it could be that God is in it. That's why it's not going smoothly.
Because every action brings an equal and opposite reaction. If you're getting opposition from the right source, you know, whenever I get opposition, I always consider, I always weigh it. And I weigh it to find out what the source is. And if the source is from the Lord I always pray about it. But when it's from a source that I believe is not a godly source, then I go, a-ha. I see what's happening here. So as you prepare to step out into service, be prepared to pay the price of sacrifice. And the more effective you are, the more a target you are. So again, I don't know that I would necessarily clap at that, but feel free.
"So they were filled with envy and contradicted them, blaspheming and opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, it was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first," to the Jew first, and then also to the Gentile, "but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have set you as a light to the Gentiles that you should be for salvation for the ends of the earth.
Now when the Gentiles heard this they were glad," yeah, what he said, "and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." There's a whole sermon right there. "And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout that region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and came to Iconium."
To shake dust off your feet was a Jewish expression of breaking fellowship revulsion. Jesus, in Luke, chapter 9, said, if you go into a city, and they don't receive you, shake the very dust off your feet. And the idea was we don't want to bring unclean Gentile dust into Jewish regions. That's sort of the idea of it. But it became simply an expression for breaking fellowship, breaking communion with, and because the gospel was pushed away by this religious group, the Jewish people in the synagogues who stirred something up, he said, we're turning to the Gentiles.
And it says, "They came to Iconium, and the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." OK. So now they're in the region of Galatia. You've heard of Galatia. You've heard of the letter to the Galatians. Galatia isn't a city. It's a province. It's an area. There are several cities in it. Iconium is one of those cities. 80 miles away, he travels, to Iconium.
Now, one of the questions I frequently get asked is what did Paul the Apostle look like physically? Is there any physical description written down of Paul? And the answer is yes. And it happens to come from somebody who lived in the city of Iconium from Galatia. So because I get asked a lot, what did he look like, and of course, we don't know. This is simply one person's description, the only one that we have written down.
This is from a second century work called the Acts of Paul written by a resident from Iconium by the name of Onesiphorus. And here is how he described Paul. "And he saw Paul approaching," listen to it, "a man small in size with meeting eyebrows," you know, that's a unibrow. There's like no break right here, just like one big line of hair, a unibrow, "with a rather large nose, baldheaded, bowlegged, strongly built, full of grace. For at times, he looked like a man, and at times he had the face of an angel." Isn't that beautiful?
So he didn't look like much outwardly. And he does seem to speak about that. You know, he just says, you know, my enemies say he's not much to look at. And perhaps, this is an accurate description of what he looked like. That he was diminutive, nice way of saying short, unibrow, bowlegged, large nose, crooked nose. "But sometimes, he looked like he had the face of an angel."
Now, all of that is unimportant. It's interesting. It's fascinating. If you want to know what Paul looked like this is probably the best description we have from antiquity, the only one we have. However, don't you love what it says in the Old Testament, that when God was looking for a man to replace King Saul, and he tells the prophet, for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. And what a heart Paul had. He had the heart to preach the gospel to places that had never heard the glad tidings of the gospel.
And so, at Iconium, that's where he ends up with Barnabas. And it says, "The disciples," verse 52, "were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." Now they just got persecuted. They just got booted out of town, and they're joyful. Why? Because they're filled with the Holy Spirit. Man, you've got an artesian well wherever you go if you're filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the spirit, you can be filled with joy. And perhaps they just saw, man, we're relating to Jesus. We're identifying with him. He was persecuted. And he said we would be too. And we're persecuted for righteousness sake.
Now, I like the fact that they were joyful after being persecuted. But I want to issue a warning. If you get persecuted, make sure that you're getting persecuted for righteousness sake. Because some people are just weird people. And they kind of deserve to be persecuted. Just because it's like, it's not that their message is offensive. They just are doing it in an offensive manner.
I remember going witnessing, street witnessing, out at the pier at Huntington Beach, sometimes every weekend. And there was always this one guy. And when he was there, it's like, oh, man, he's going to make it hard for me. Because I would love to, I would just go up to people, and talk to them, and engage in a conversation, and try to be as affable as I could. But this guy, at the beginning of the Huntington Beach pier, would be yelling at people, going, sinner. Here's his message of good news. You're going to hell. I'm thinking, now that is an attractive message. Who wouldn't want to listen to that right there. Tell me more.
So he just repelled everybody. He was being persecuted, by the way, but not for righteousness sake. He was being persecuted because he was lame. And if you're going to get persecuted, make sure that you get persecuted for righteousness sake. "They were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Now it happened," verse 1, "in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue," that's his style, "and so spoke that a great multitude, both of the Jews and the Greeks, believed." There's something in that verse that it wrests my attention. He so spoke that people believed, which implies that if you're a preacher or a teacher or a witnesser, you can so speak so that people won't believe.
And I read this and it convicts me. I want to make sure that I so speak that my message is studied, and researched, and smart, and filled with the spirit, and all the things that will reach into people's hearts, and make them deal with the truth so that they will believe. It implies there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. "So they so spoke for in such a manner that the multitude, both of the Jews and Greeks, believe. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren."
Are you seeing a pattern here? Are you noticing that the greatest enemies to the gospel are not the prostitutes or the atheists, but the narrow-minded unsaved religious people. Man, your movement is growing bigger than our synagogue, or our meeting, or our thing, or our belief. You're threatening us. Our people, if they hear your message, are going to go to your deal. And so they became the greatest antagonists. "Therefore, they stayed there a long time speaking boldly in the Lord, who is bearing witness to the word of his grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided. And part sided with the Jews, and part sided with the apostles.
Now, consider something for a moment. The word apostles is used in that verse. Do you see it? Do you find it a little odd? Because Peter's not there. James is not there. John is not there. Bartholomew is not there. Even Thomas, he's not there. But it refers to apostles. So it's an interesting choice of words. Why do I bring this up? Because I said something at the beginning of this book of Acts, which I don't expect you to remember all the things that I say even in the same book. But people often ask, are apostles still an office for today? Is the office of an apostle something that is contemporary?
And I say yes. And I say no. No in the strict sense, yes in a general sense. So in a strict sense, there were and are only Twelve Apostles. So then in Acts 2:42 they gave themselves continually to the Apostles' doctrine, breaking of bread, fellowship, and in prayer. It's a reference to the teaching of the Twelve Apostles who follow Jesus in his earthly ministry. One was replaced, Judas was replaced by Matthias. And there are only 12.
In Ephesians, Paul will say that our faith is build on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. Those are the 12. By the way, Paul is called an apostle. He calls himself an apostle in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy. He calls himself Paul an apostle. But he never numbered himself with the 12. He called himself an apostle to the Gentiles. So in a strict sense, there are no more apostles today. The new Jerusalem will be built on the 12 foundations of the Twelve Apostles of the lamb, we are told in Revelation.
However, in another sense they do continue. And here is a use of the word apostle that is not referring to the strict sense of the 12. Because Paul wasn't of the 12. And Barnabas certainly was not of the 12. And yet, it's a reference to apostles. So get this, 75 times in the New Testament, the word apostle shows up. And people that are not of the 12 are called apostles, including Timothy, including Barnabas, including Andronica and Junia, and a few others are referred to as apostles.
So the root meaning of the word apostolos simply means somebody who was sent out, dispatched, sent on a mission. Originally, it spoke of an enclave of ships sent out on an expedition. It came to mean somebody who was just sent out on a mission. In the strict sense, it refers to the ones Jesus, out of the disciples, identified and sent out. But it is used also in the New Testament to refer to just somebody sent out on a mission generally. So that's why I say yes and no. Does that make sense?
The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the term apostle, apostolos, since they do speak Greek and are a Greek church, in referring to their missionaries that they send out. You could look at an apostle as somebody who has influence, who provides leadership, perhaps over a number of churches, or even a missionary. So in a general sense, they're still around.
Oh, by the way, John Calvin in his institute, by the way, John Calvin, some people think is on a par with Paul the Apostle, though he's not. John Calvin said, God raised up apostles on particular occasions when required by the necessity of the times and he has done it in our own times. So it's interesting that John Calvin, whom some revere as a biblical character almost, referred to apostles as just those who are being sent out even in his own time. So I hope that answers the question. You're thinking, I never had the question to begin with, so, but if you did, there it is.
Verse 5, and when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews with their rulers to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it. And they fled to Lystra and Derbe, the cities of Lycaonia, to the surrounding region. And you say, well, why did they do that? Are they chicken? No, they're smart. You can be bold and foolish. They were bold and prudent. They were wise. Jesus even said, if you are persecuted in this city, flee to the next city. So don't be persecuted and die unnecessarily. So they didn't.
It's an important principle. Our approach to people in our evangelism needs to be tailored based upon their response to it. Didn't Jesus say, don't give what is holy to the dogs, don't cash your pearls before swine because they'll trample them underfoot, turn around and attack you? So when I share with people, I see how open they are. If what I'm going to say, they're just turned off to, their bent against it, no matter what I say they're just going to make fun of it, I'm done. I'm not going to cast my pearls before pigs, Jesus' words. But I'm going to wait till they're open to it. If they're open to it, I'll continue. If they're not, I won't.
So think about Jesus' own approach. He spoke to the crowd one way. He spoke to Pontius Pilate an entirely different way. And when he stood before Herod Antipas, he didn't say anything at all, not a single word. He refused to speak, refused to give him any truth at all. He knew his heart. So they're done. They're packing up. And they're going. And they go 18 miles from Iconium to Lystra. And why is Lystra important? Because in Lystra lives a woman named Lois and her daughter Eunice who happened to be the grandmother and mother of Timothy. And it is probably during this first missionary journey that Lois and Eunice and Timothy get saved in Lystra.
So it's an important town. It's beautiful. But it's not over yet. There are some hard times coming up. It says, they were preaching the gospel there, verse 7, verse 8. In Lystra, a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting a cripple from his mother's womb who had never walked. This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, the gift of faith is about to be working with the gift of healing, said with a loud voice, stand up straight on your feet. And he leaped and walked.
Now, when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men. And Barnabas, they called Zeus. And Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates intending to sacrifice with the multitudes. But when the apostles, there it is again, Barnabas, and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and they ran in among the multitudes crying and saying, men, why are you doing these things?
We also are men with the same nature as you and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things, or idols, to the living God who made the heaven, the earth, the sea and all that are in them. Who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons filling our hearts with food and gladness.
And with these sayings, they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them. It's an interesting response. A man is healed, wow, awesome, amazing, you can imagine all of the emotion that would go with that. If you've ever seen somebody legitimately healed, I just don't mean they cough a little bit less, I mean healed. It's pretty amazing. And the emotions run high. But this town said, bring out the animals, man, let's have a sacrifice. These two dudes are gods in human flesh. These are the two gods Zeus and Hermes in their mythology.
Now why would they do that? A little history will help. There was a poet, a Roman poet, named Ovid, O-V-I-D. Maybe you've heard of him? If you've studied literature, you have, Ovid. He had a legend, a story, that the gods came down from heaven to Lystra and they were Zeus and Hermes. And they tried to get food and lodging, to get the local townspeople to take care of them. None of them would except an old peasant couple by the name of Philemon and his wife, not the biblical Philemon. And so after they were nourished by this elderly couple, these two gods from heaven drowned the local townspeople, killing them all, but made the humble abode of Philemon and his wife into a beautiful palace in which they served as priest and priestess. Then when this old couple died, they became two stately trees that grew in among that city. That was the legend. That was the history from Ovid.
So they believed that. They believed that legend. Now Paul and Barnabas come, somebody is healed, they go, I know what this is. We're not going to make that mistake again. Treat these guys like royalty. Let's just make sure they get a good sacrifice going. So that's probably what's going on in their minds.
Now, I'm looking at the time. I'm making a decision of where to go with this. I mean, I can always go long. But I can go deep too. So I am trying to figure out which road to take. Do I turn right? Do I go... OK, so, Paul is preaching to this group of pagan idolators. And when he preaches to them, which we have just read, notice what he does. He goes from general to specific. He starts wide and then he goes narrow.
He says, we're also men like you are. You should turn from these things. God who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed nations to walk in his own ways, nevertheless did not leave himself without witness in that he gave food, rain from heaven, fruitful seasons fulfilling our hearts with food and gladness. You know, that creation is a gift from God. And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.
So here's his approach. When he is addressing people like this, he doesn't begin with the Bible. When he's in the synagogue, he begins with the Bible because they're familiar with the Bible and they believe the Bible. These are unbelievers. These are pagan worshippers. He does not begin with the Bible. He begins generally, with like, here we are in creation, God made it all, gave us cool stuff, we drink, you know, something they can grasp and understand about the Bible.
Now, why is that important? Because if you go up to an unbeliever and you say, you know, the Bible says, they don't care. They don't believe the Bible. You've got to start at a different place. Your approach has to be different. Even Jesus' approach to people was different. Scribes and Pharisees, he would counter them with the Bible. Have you not read?
When he's in Samaria talking to the woman at the well, his approach is very different. He's speaking to a woman who tried to fill the spiritual thirst in her life by a series of men, relationships. And the men did not fulfill her. So Jesus said, you know, if you drink of this water, you'll thirst again. But whoever drinks the water that I give will never thirst.
It got her attention. She's thirsty. He begins with her need, not the Bible that she does not believe all of because she is a Samaritan. You get the point. The approach is different. So you need to read and know your audience when you share the gospel. And Paul does that quite well. So even with that, they could scarcely restrain them. Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there, having persuaded the multitudes they stoned Paul. OK, this is a fickle bunch, right? We want to worship you. Oh, you won't let us? We'll kill you. It's not so much unlike the Jews in Jerusalem who on Sunday said, Hosanna to Jesus, but on Friday, crucify him, crucify him. This is a fickle crowd.
However, when the disciples gathered around after they stoned them, he drug Paul out of the city supposing that he was dead. So it was a pretty severe beating he got. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city, wow, they stone you in that city, they almost kill you in that city, you dry up the blood and go, I'm going back. Really? You want more of that? He went back into the city, unstoppable. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe, good move.
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying, we must, through many tribulations, enter the Kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
And after they had passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia, these are regions. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. And from there they sail to Antioch, this is Antioch of Syria. They're going back to that first Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Now, something happened to Paul the Apostle while he was in Lystra and Derbe, probably Lystra, that changed his life forever and gave him a motivation unlike anything he had ever known before. And next week, I'm going to tell you what that is. Man, it's epic. It's so epic you don't want to miss it. But the chapter concludes, hey, one and 1/2 chapters tonight. The chapter concludes where they get back together in Antioch and they have the first missionary conference in history, sharing what God has done.
I wonder what it would be like if we decided, hey, let's go out street witnessing tonight. We'll meet you in a couple hours and let's just hear what the Lord has done. It would be one of the most encouraging services you could imagine, I bet, just to watch. I mean, some of you would come back so geeked, so pumped, because God used you and you led somebody to Christ, and would encourage the rest of us. So even though they've been beat up and persecuted, and Paul almost died, they're like, God did a cool thing!
So I pray this week that God would do cool things in and through our lives, that you would go out in his name as soldiers of the living Christ, sharing hope with people around you who are hopeless, able to judge where they're at, what they need to hear. And then even next week, you'll have some great stories to share with those that you're sitting around of what God has done through you.
Father, thank you first of all that you have given us this history, this scriptural account of Barnabas and Saul, now Paul and Barnabas. And we're seeing this one that you chose on the Damascus road, that you equipped for three years down in Arabia, that you nurtured back in his hometown of Tarsus, now 10 years after his conversion, powerfully sharing in Antioch and Pisidia, and then in Lystra and Derbe, and setting the stage for more trips and more usefulness in the future. Father, we come and as we close this service, we just place ourselves before you as living sacrifices, as Paul said in Romans 12, holy unacceptable, which is our reasonable service, and we pray, Lord, that you would use us tonight, this week, to be an encouragement, to be a witness, to bring people into the kingdom, to invite them. Use our lives for your glory. Shake the city, Lord. Shake the country that needs to hear the message of hope in Christ, and that they hear it through our lives. In Jesus' name, Amen.