Study 15: Jewish rejection equals Gentile opportunity!
This is the point in the book of the Acts of the Apostles when the focus changes. Up to now it has been very much on what was happening in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria, and although there is mention of places outside of these areas such as Antioch where Saul went after his conversion on the road to Damascus, the main thrust of the first twelve chapters is on Israel, and the main character we have been following has been Peter.
The change is startling. Paul whose name had been changed from Saul, the man who persecuted the believers, now takes up the main role in the Book, and the area of focus is now very much the Gentile world. The Gospel was always intended to be heard and accepted by people from all nations under the sun, but when Jesus came to the Jews as of first priority; their leaders roundly rejected what He had to say, and made life difficult for the believers.
Just as surely as God’s plan for Salvation is worldwide, so is His intention for His Church. Individual churches will always express their locality in different ways and according to the characters of those who worship there, but the vision of the Church as the “Bride of Christ” was always intended to be local, national and international. Just as Jesus reminded His disciples before His ascension into Heaven, Matthew 28:18-20 and in Acts 1:8 which we know well now. He speaks to us now about the role of the Church in these days, and believe it or not, His commission to us has not changed. We need to think big and wide, and follow what Jesus has asked us to do. If necessary, get a passport and a rucksack and be prepared to go wherever the Holy Spirit impresses on your heart.
It is important that those who want to stay in the local area doing things for local people are not prevented from doing that, but it is equally important that they do not stand in the way of those who want to move in wider spheres. All parts are vital to the body of Christ. Those who became comfortable in their narrow ministry to Jerusalem suddenly found that they were displaced through persecution and found that they could equally well preach the Gospel with a far more resounding effect than if they had stayed behind. So the gospel spread, and in this chapter we are looking over the edge of a worldwide movement that would and will never stop until the entire earth is renewed and Satan is finally defeated.
The church at Antioch must have been an exciting place in which to be a Christian. For a start there was more than one prophet, who were inspired interpreters of the will of God, and more than one teacher! They were not born and bred in the place; they had come from very different backgrounds and were probably from ethnic minorities. Just spend a couple of minutes reflecting on what each had been through in the last few months: ‘Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch were Barnabas and Symeon (also called “The Black Man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (a member of the court of King Herod), and Paul’. Acts 13:1 LB. Barnabas was known in the church as an encourager, Acts 4:36-37. He was the man who, when Saul arrived in Jerusalem after his conversion, acted as the intermediary when the believers refused to believe that he had become a Christian. They thought it was just another trick to discover those who loved the Lord, Acts 9:26-29. When new converts required help, it was Barnabas to whom the believers turned. They sent him to Antioch. And the bible records the profound effect he had on these people. Not only did he encourage them but his character as a strong, kind and reliable man for the Lord shone through. Acts 11:22-26. And here Paul and Barnabas now were, hurrying to return from Jerusalem to Antioch, but taking with them John Mark who would later write Mark’s Gospel, Acts 12:25
These people were part of a thriving church and of one which apparently did not suffer from the common ailment of many churches today. No place for “managing directors” here! These people had executive authority. The only managing director was God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit, Acts 13:2-3
These men were dedicated to God’s work, and so it was no surprise that the Holy Spirit spoke to them and shared with them His Vision. The men whom the Holy Spirit chose were Paul and Barnabas. What a team! Paul was fearless in his love of the Lord whom once He had persecuted, and Barnabas was the ideal backup man – an encourager and a man who would get alongside those he was helping. This was God’s team to begin the evangelisation of the Gentile nations.
What gifts has God given you? Are you holding back from something He has called you to do because you are afraid of stepping into the unknown? If God has called you it is because He has also uniquely equipped you to do this job, and if you don’t do it, then nobody else will, or could, do it as well as you. When Joshua stepped out to take the Israelites over the River Jordan, God spoke to him and gave him amazing promises to encourage him to get started and to keep going
‘5 No one will be able to oppose you as long as you live, for I will be with you just as I was with Moses; I will not abandon you or fail to help you. 6 “Be strong and brave, for you will be a successful leader of my people; and they shall conquer all the land I promised to their ancestors. 7 You need only to be strong and courageous and to obey to the letter every law Moses gave you, ……… think about them every day and every night so that you will be sure to obey all of them. For only then will you succeed. 9 Yes, be bold and strong! Banish fear and doubt! For remember, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ Joshua 1:2-9
If God has called you, don’t justify reasons for not doing what He has asked you to do, just seek His face and His Word for the promises He has for you and your situation.
Those who chose them, laid hands on Paul, Barnabas and John Mark, and they set out into the unknown with the Holy Spirit to guide them. The journey they were about to undertake became known as Paul’s First Missionary Journey. It is the first in a sequence, and if God has laid this lifestyle on your heart, you will (like Paul) be totally unable to resist the excitement.
We can view the journey in four stages with each teaching us something about the rigours of life in the centre of God’s Plan for your life.
The first stop was Cyprus. Located in the Mediterranean Sea, the island of Cyprus, with a large Jewish population, was Barnabas’s home. Their first stop was in familiar territory. The stratagy they adopted was to go first to the Jewish synagogues and to relate the Gospel there. This was to be the pattern that Paul was to adopt throughout his life as a missionary. Go first to the Jews, then when they refused to listen any more, move on and give the Gentiles their opportunity.
They preached from town to town until finally they came to Paphos. Here they found their first real test. The Governor had heard of what Barnabas and Paul were doing on the island and wanted to know more, but Elymas, a Jew and an interferer tried to prevent the Governor from paying attention to what they had to say, and tried to stop Sergius Paulus from trusting in the Lord.
We need to understand that someone who comes against one of the servants of God as he or she carries out their commission actually comes against God Himself. Paul understood exactly what his authority was in Jesus and, filled with the Holy Spirit, dealt with the problem. It is about time that we dealt forcefully with the people who stand in the way of God and us fulfilling His commission in others’ lives.
He spoke the truth as he called Elymas ‘you master in every form of deception and recklessness, unscrupulousness and wickedness, you son of the devil, you enemy of everything that is upright and good..’. He commanded blindness to come on Elymas – physical blindness that would lift, whereas the sort of blindness that Elymas tried to inflict on others was spiritual blindness, and would last into eternity. Perhaps Elymas, as he groped around in the dark would have considered the effect of his sorcery, Acts 13:9-12 AMP
The good news about all of this, however is that the Governor, Sergius Paulus became a Believer.
Paul and Barnabas then left Paphos by boat and set out for Asia Minor (Turkey as we know it today).
They landed in the port area of Perga, a location we now know as Attalia.
It was here that John Mark deserted them and for whatever reason (the Bible does not tell us), he went back to Jerusalem. Paul was not happy about this and it caused a rift between them for many years until finally they were reconciled as we shall see later in our exploration of Acts.
They didn’t stay in Perga, rather they set out for Antioch. We should remember that the Holy Spirit is in charge of this trip, and it seems that there was some urgency to move on.
Many people believe that this journey would have been a simple one, but we need to consider the fact that they had no motor transport to make life easier and the route was at best a rough track and very difficult to traverse in parts. It climbed through spectacular mountains and beside large lakes until they arrived at their destination.
The picture at the left is of the excavation of a main thoroughfare in the city of Antioch in Pisidia shows the ruins of the satanic temple to the Emperor Augustus. Notice the snow on the hills in the background.
When they reached the city, the first record of them is when they went to the synagogue. They were following the pattern that they had laid down in Cyprus, speaking to the Jews in the Synagogue first. They were invited to speak here “Brothers, if you have any word of instruction for us come and give it!” Acts 13:15
Study 15: Jewish rejection equals Gentile opportunity! – Challenge Questions
Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in God’s word the more you will get out of it.
Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make God’s word your number one priority.
1. *Read the Notes and the Bible Verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that ‘speak’ to you and share one with your group.
2. How do you really feel about the amazing change in Paul from killer of Christians to totally dedicated apostle of the Way, whom God is obviously using to fulfill His will. Does this give you encouragement for yourself and anyone who is opposing you? Pray now for that person.
3. If God asked you to go for Him to a foreign country are you ready and willing? Could you go even if there was no guarantee of income or home? Be honest!
4. *What was the biggest problem on Paul’s first missionary journey? How do you think from your experience of Christians did Paul, Barnabas and John Mark deal with it? How are we meant to deal with these issues in the Church if they happen today?
Read Acts 13:16-43
5. *Paul and Barnabas then went on to Antioch. How did they make contact with the people there and to which group did they first go? What steps did Paul use when he spoke to the people in the synagogue to bring them to repentance? Select two ways of communication seen here to apply to giving your testimony; then explain how you could use this for effectively sharing the Gospel with family and friends.
6. Paul explained who Jesus was and why He came, by going back through Biblical History. Where did he begin? Itemise the elements of History that he used to make his point. Read Luke 3:15-18. What did John the Baptist say that Jesus would do for you?
7. Read Luke 2:25-35. Where did Simeon meet Joseph, Mary and Jesus? When Simeon had seen Jesus, what did he say and why? What did Simeon say about Mary? Which Gift of the Spirit was he using? Which Gifts of the Spirit (from the list in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11) are available for you to use?
8. *Read Acts 13:38-41. Paul was very specific about whose sins could be forgiven. Do you think that everyone’s sins can be forgiven? Can yours be forgiven and have they been? Under what circumstances would Jesus ever remember them again? (Micah 7:18-20)
9. Read Romans 9:1-5. On whom does Paul say that Jesus has compassion? From what you have just read in Acts 13, on whom does He have compassion today? Does that include both Jews and Gentiles? Explain your answer.
10. *Read Acts 13:44-45. How many people turned out to listen to Paul and Barnabas the following week? Do you think they came because they were interested? Are people interested in the Gospel today? Why or why not?
11. *When the Jewish leaders saw the crowds who came to hear Paul and Barnabas, what emotion did they feel? What did they do as a result? Can you think of any instance when that may happen in these days?
12. *Paul and Barnabas went on to Iconium. What did they do as they left Antioch? How did they leave those who had become Christians? What was then necessary for them to become disciples rather than just converts and do you think the same is important in your Church today?
13. *Sum up in a short sentence what you have learnt from this passage.