Study 16: Potted history of the church
Paul used what is commonly called the “Law of Connection” here and it is an excellent example of how we should aim to preach the gospel. It is one that, if we follow it, will help us tell our Christian stories (our testimonies) more effectively. This is how Paul did it. Note the steps he took.
He greeted the people. He followed that by linking with the people – telling them that with which they were already familiar, making them feel comfortable in his presence – that he knew what he was talking about. He followed that up by giving them new facts – about Jesus, His death and His resurrection. He used inclusive language (we, us, our). He provided hope and encouragement to his audience, identifying their mission to these men and women. Only when Paul had built these bridges of relationship did he give them clear steps of action, and finally, he encouraged them to repent.
These men now had soft hearts towards the Gospel and towards Paul and Barnabas. They asked them to come back the next week to teach them some more – not only Jews but godly Gentiles also. The next week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach! These were exciting times!
We will just take some time and look at the way in which Paul told his story:
The synagogue meeting was inclusive and Paul explained that he would use history to make his point. He began with the Exodus – just a ‘potted version’! But Paul did explain to them that God chose them and honoured them by gloriously leading them out of slavery. We should recognise here that God has honoured us when we gave our lives to Him, and He has gloriously led us out of our slavery to sin into the life of an over comer.
He then explained to them that God took care of their ancestors as He was leading them out of Egypt into the Promised Land through the desert. In fact He provided them with an air-conditioned, fully inclusive, security protected trip if only they would believe Him. He nursed them through the forty years of wandering through the desert, (Acts 13:18) and then destroyed the nations that inhabited Canaan, finally giving the entire land to His people, the Jews. See the map of the traditional route of the wilderness journey in Lesson 09.
He provided them with Judges (Acts 13:20) to rule them and to keep them on-track, and when they strayed, as they often did, bring them back to the ‘strait and narrow’!
But they rebelled. Again! The people wanted a king, so God gave them one who was exactly the type they had moaned to him about – one that was just like all the rest of the kings of the nations round about them. Then when the people were ready, God gave them His choice as King, David, a man after God’s own Heart, (Acts 13:22) and promised them that one of his descendants would be the promised Saviour – in fact this was to be Jesus! This was how the angel explained His coming to Mary who was to be His mother: ‘He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. And the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His ancestor David. And He shall reign over Israel forever; His Kingdom shall never end!’ Luke 1:30-33
Then when the time was right, God sent John the Baptist (Acts 13:24) to prepare the way for Jesus, Luke 3:15-18. Finally Jesus came in fulfillment of this and many other prophecies,
The Jews in Jerusalem and their leaders rejected Him and killed Him by nailing Him to a cross. Above the cross, Pilate placed a sign that read (in Hebrew, Latin and Greek) “The King of the Jews“.
It had been spoken from early times, even from before the time that crucifixion had been developed as a form of torture and death.
Jesus was crucified on a “tree” and, even though the Jewish authorities did so for a different reason, they took down his body before sunset so that it did not remain on the tree overnight. So His body was placed in a tomb (Acts 13:29) Everybody believed that this would be the end of the “religious movement” that Jesus headed. However, God the Father had different ideas. On the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead and was seen by many people. (Acts 13:31)
Finally Paul stated that he and Barnabas were there to give them this Good News that their sins could not just be covered for another year (as in the Old Testament sacrificial system), but that they could be entirely forgiven! What awesome news this must have been for them as it is for us in our day!! Read this slowly and meditate on it for yourself, believe and receive it.
38 “Brothers and Sisters! Listen! In this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins! 39 Everyone who trusts in Him is freed from all guilt and declared righteous – something the Jewish law could never do. 40 Oh, be careful! Don’t let the prophets’ words apply to you. For they said, 41 ‘Look and perish, you despisers of the truth, for I am doing something in your day – something that you won’t believe when you hear it announced.’” Acts 13:38-41 LB
We need to be aware of the danger that the prophet’s words should apply to us. We should never put ourselves in the position where we despise the truth. Habakkuk (who is quoted here and below) was told by God that God was going to raise a new force in world events – a cruel and violent force that would conquer the world. Now Luke, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, takes the same scripture to apply to the people alive at that time who might despise the truth. How much more should that apply to us today – particularly in the West where there are Bibles in almost every home – the best seller in most nations – and yet the least read book on the shelves. The Lord replied: “Look, and be amazed! You will be astounded at what I am about to do! For I am going to do something in your own lifetime, that you will have to see to believe.” Habakkuk 1:5.
This is a definite word for us today.
So the scene was set for the next week as Paul and Barnabas were asked to return to speak again, Acts 13:42. But as the crowds came together to hear the word of God, watch what happened next! The entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of God. But when the leaders saw the crowds, they were jealous, and cursed and argued against whatever Paul said, Acts 13:44-45.
The response from Paul and Barnabas was predictable. Although I am sure they were disappointed, they were not surprised, so in line with their plans, as they had offered salvation to the Jews and they had refused it, they offered it to the Gentiles. Why was it necessary for the gospel to go first to the Jews? God planned that through the Jewish nation all the world would come to know God: “and the entire world will be blessed because of you.” Genesis 12:3.
Paul, a Jew himself, loved his people and wanted to give them every opportunity to join him in proclaiming God’s salvation. Read the heart of this transformed murderer who was willing to take condemnation in hell for himself in exchange for their salvation. What amazing love for those who hated him, real enemies, not just people who gave him a rude remark but those who were determined to kill him!!
“1-3 O Israel, my people! O my Jewish brothers! How I long for you to come to Christ. My heart is heavy within me, and I grieve bitterly day and night because of you. Christ knows and the Holy Spirit knows that it is no mere pretense when I say that I would be willing to be forever damned if that would save you. 4 God has given you so much, but still you will not listen to Him. He took you as His own special, chosen people and led you along with a bright cloud of glory and told you how very much He wanted to bless you. He gave you His rules for daily life so you would know what He wanted you to do. He let you worship Him and gave you mighty promises. 5 Great men of God were your fathers, and Christ Himself was one of you, a Jew so far as His human nature is concerned, He who now rules over all things. Praise God forever!” (Romans 9:1-5)
Unfortunately, many Jews did not recognise Jesus as Messiah, and they did not understand that God was offering salvation to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who comes to Him through faith in Christ. If they had cared the rejection would have cut them to their heart but Paul points out they are passing judgment on themselves.
‘But since you thrust it from you, you pass this judgment on yourselves that you are unworthy of eternal life and out of your own mouth you will be judged. [Now] behold, we turn to the Gentiles (the heathen). For so the Lord has charged us, saying, I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles (the heathen), that you may bring [eternal] salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ Acts 13:46-47
God had planned for Israel to be this light:
“You (Messiah) shall do more than restore Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the nations of the world, to bring My salvation to them too.”
Isaiah 49:6. Through Israel came Jesus, the light of the nations. This light would spread out and enlighten the Gentiles. (Luke 2:29-32)
The Jews chose to reject the salvation offered, but the Gentiles accepted it with open arms. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and rejoiced in Paul’s message; and as many as wanted eternal life, believed. So God’s message spread all through that region.” (Acts 13:48-49)
Not only were the religious Jews happy to confront Paul and Barnabas, they also wanted to cause as much collateral damage as possible. So where did they try to sway people with stupid arguments? Amongst the devout women of high rank and civic leaders of course; just as happens today. Nothing like the thought that we may lose a position, to cause us to act irrationally!
“Then the Jewish leaders stirred up both the devout women of high rank and the civic leaders of the city and incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against the town and went on to the city of Iconium. 52 And their converts were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:50-52)
In normal circumstances, godly women and civic leaders want absolutely nothing to do with mobs and rioting, but when it comes to being challenged as to their standing with God, common sense and normality go out of the window. Perfectly rational people permit strange things to happen. Have you noticed this in your church lives and daily lives when people feel threatened? Shaking off the dust of their feet against Antioch was a way of saying that they wanted nothing more to do with that city. However, the new Believers whom they left behind were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. One of the exciting things about new Christians is their enthusiasm for their new life and lifestyle. It is as if the Holy Spirit deposits within them something that gives them a regard for life that they had never had before – something that makes them exciting to be around.
If you ever want to be encouraged in your Christian life, all you have to do is lead someone to the feet of Jesus, and then lead another and another. Before long this will be a lifestyle for you that you cannot and will not give up.
It is so important in the light of the warning about end times that we keep an eye on our spiritual temperature to make sure that we keep our passion for Jesus.
“And then many will be offended and repelled and will begin to distrust and desert [Him Whom they ought to trust and obey] and will stumble and fall away and betray one another and pursue one another with hatred. And many false prophets will rise up and deceive and lead many into error. And the love of the great body of people will grow cold because of the multiplied lawlessness and iniquity.” (Matthew 24:10-12)
Instead of looking out at all the problems in the world we need to focus on Jesus and keep going in all He has called us to do. Focus on His eyes and ask Him to share His heart with us so we have His perspective and are moved by LOVE in all we do and in all our reactions. We need to be spending more and more time with Him so that, when we leave the secret place, all we do is by His power and motivation. We are then tuned in to His heart and will see amazing miracles in His kingdom on earth.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in His household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when He returns.” (Matthew 24:45-46)
Those in Iconium were about to receive an amazing challenge to their lives.
Study 16: Potted history of the church – 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 in the group.
2. Which part of the history of the children of Israel stated by Paul in this chapter do you a) find encouraging? b) Which part do you find challenging?
3. What do you think of ‘the Jews inciting the God – fearing women of high standing’ stirring up persecution against Paul and Barnabus? How do you think they could be persuaded to do this?
Read Acts 14:1-7.
4. *Verse 1 states: ‘At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went together to the synagogue and preached with such power that many – both Jews and Gentiles – believed.’ How did Paul and Barnabas have so much power? Who gave it to them or did they already have it? For what did they use this power?
5. *The counterpart to Verse 1 comes in Verse 2: ‘But the Jews who spurned God’s message stirred up distrust among the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas, saying all sorts of evil things about them.’ Why do you think the Jews spurned God’s message? What would have been the reason for the Gentiles distrusting what these men said?
6. *What effect did the opposition to their message have on Paul and Barnabas? Under what circumstances did they finally leave? Do you think they were afraid? Can you identify with them as they worked under such opposition? Perhaps you have never experienced such opposition but can you share any instances where you have faced something similar but less intense?
Read Acts 14:8-20
7. *Where did Paul and Barnabas go next? What was their purpose in going? Who did they see, and how did they help him? Can you remember another similar circumstance that we have studied in the Book of Acts?
8. What was the response of the crowd to this healing? What reason did the people of Lystra have for acting this way? Is it possible that people may react this way today when you or I preach the Gospel?
9. *How did the two disciples react to this strange demonstration? Why do you think that it was important for the disciples to assure them forcefully that they were not the gods the people of Lystra thought they were?
10. Did the people of Lystra listen to what they had to say? From the Bible text, why can we safely assume that some people from Lystra had become Believers? What happened to Paul? How do you think the other Believers would have reacted to this opposition?
11. *The opposition had come from Antioch and Iconium. What do you think these people who came to Lystra say about the disciples? Do you think that similar things happen in churches today? Explain your answer.
12. Paul was left for dead. Death by stoning was a common sentence in the Jewish culture. Why do you think it was so surprising that Paul got up and returned to the city? Did that show courage? Would you have had such courage as that if it had been you that had been stoned?
13. What did Paul and Barnabas do the next day? Was that surprising? Explain your answer
Read Acts 14:20-28
14. *Did Paul’s close brush with death make him any less effective in preaching the Gospel? What results did he have in Derbe?
15. Paul and Barnabas travelled back through the places where they had planted churches. What did they now do in each city they had previously been to?
16. *When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, what did they do? Why was it important for them to tell the people what had happened? How long, approximately had they been away?