A potted history of the church


Acts 13:16-41

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 good news about Jesus. 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 that he took.

Firstly, he greeted people. He followed that by connecting with them: talking of things with which they were already familiar, making them feel comfortable in his presence and demonstrating that he knew what he was talking about. He followed that up by giving them new facts: about Jesus, His death and resurrection. He used inclusive language ("we", "us", "our"). He provided hope and encouragement for his audience, whilst explaining to them what he was trying to do. Only when Paul had built these links did he give them clear steps for action, culminating in a call to turn around (repent) and seek Jesus for themselves.

At this point in the narrative, these people were well disposed, both towards the good news and towards Paul and Barnabas themselves. They asked them to come back the next week to teach them some more – not only Jewish people but godly Gentiles too. By the following week, almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach! These were exciting times!

Let's 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" in which Paul explained to them that God had chosen them and honoured them by gloriously leading them out of slavery. We should recognise here that God honoured us too when we gave our lives to Him and He has led us out of our slavery to sin into the life of "overcomers".

Paul then reminded them of how God had taken care of the Jewish ancestors by leading them out of Egypt into the "Promised Land" via the desert. In fact, He had protected them, provided food and water for them and nursed them through forty years of wandering through the desert (Acts 13:18). Finally, God had brought them to Canaan - the "Promised Land" - where he had fought with them to remove various nations that had previously rebelled against God and turned their backs on Him. (See the map of the traditional route of the wilderness journey in Lesson 9.)

Judges of Israel

God provided His people with judges (Acts 13:20) to keep them on-track and, when they had strayed - as they often did - to bring them back to the "strait and narrow"!

But they constantly rebelled. They demanded to have a king, like all the nations around them, so God eventually gave them one (Saul) who was exactly like all the kings of the other nations round about them. Finally, when the people were ready, God gave them His own choice as king: David - a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). God promised them that one of David's descendants would be a "Saviour" and, in due course, this turned out to be Jesus. When Jesus was born, this was how an angel explained His arrival 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 for ever; 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) Thus, Jesus came in fulfilment of this and many other prophecies.

 Prophecy Prophecy Reference
Fulfilment References    
 To be betrayed by one of His followers.  Psalm 41:9  Matthew 26:14-16  Matthew 26:47-50  Luke 22:19-23
 To be tried and condemned.  Isaiah 53:7  Luke 23:1-25  Matthew 27:1-2  
 To be silent before His accusers.  Isaiah 53:8  Matthew 27:12-14  Mark 15:3-4  Luke 23:8-10
 To be struck and spat upon by His enemies.  Isaiah 50:6  Matthew 26:67  Matthew 27:30  Mark 14:65
 To be mocked and taunted.  Psalm 22:7-8  Matthew 27:39-44  Luke 23:11  Luke 23:35
 To die by crucifixion.  Psalm 22:14-17  Matthew 27:31  Mark 15:20  Mark 15:25
 To suffer with criminals and pray for His enemies.  Isaiah 53:12  Matthew 27:38  Mark 15:27-28  Luke 23:32-34
To be given vinegar and gall. Psalm 69:21 Matthew 27:34 John 19:28-30  
Others were to cast lots for His garments. Psalm 22:18 Matthew 27:35 John 19:23-24  
His bones were not to be broken. Exodus 12:46 John 19:31-37    
He was to die as a sacrifice for sin. Isaiah 53:5-12 John 1:29 John 11:49-52 Acts 10:43
He was to be raised from the dead. Psalm 16:10 Acts 2:22-32 Matthew 28:1-10  
He is now at the right hand of God. Psalm 110:1 Mark 16:19 Luke 24:50-51  

The Jewish people and their leaders in Jerusalem rejected Jesus 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". This had been spoken of in earlier writings from the Jewish scriptures, even from before the time when crucifixion had been developed by the Romans as a form of execution.

The Cross

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 cross (tree) overnight. His body was placed in a tomb (Acts 13:29) and the authorities believed that this would be the end of the "religious movement" that Jesus had started. 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)

Paul stated that he and Barnabas were there to give them the "good news" (gospel) that sins no longer had to be atoned for with an animal sacrifice each year (as in the religious law of the Jewish scriptures), but could now be entirely forgiven through Jesus' sacrifice of Himself on the cross! What amazing news this must have been for them - no less than it is for us today! Read this slowly and meditate on it for yourself. Believe it and receive it.

"Brothers and sisters! Listen! In this man, Jesus, there is forgiveness for your sins! All who trust in Him are freed from all guilt and declared righteous - something the Jewish law could never do. Be careful! Don't let the prophets' words apply to you. For they said, ‘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 Living Bible edition)

We too need to be aware of the danger that the words of the prophets might be applied to us. We should never put ourselves in the position where we despise the truth. Habakkuk (who is quoted here and below) was told that God was going to raise a new force in world events: a cruel and violent force that would conquer the world. Luke, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, took the same scripture to apply to the people who were alive at that time and might have been tempted to despise the truth. How much more should that apply to us today, particularly in developed countries where there are bibles in almost every home – the best seller in most nations, yet the least read book on the shelves.

God said: "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 definitely a word for us today.

Acts 13:42-52

Thus, 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 Paul preaching but, when the leaders saw the crowds flocking together, they were jealous and they 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. They had offered salvation to the Jewish people who had refused it. They now offered it to the Gentiles. Why was it necessary for the good news to be offered initially to the Jews? Well, 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, from a Jewish background himself, loved his people and wanted to give them every opportunity to join him in proclaiming God's salvation. See the heart of this transformed murderer in the passage that follows. He shows himself 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 onlookers who made rude remarks about him, but people who were determined to kill him!

"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 pretence when I say that I would be willing to be for ever damned if that would save you. 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. 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 their messiah (saviour) 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, as 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; 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. They spread their arguments and criticism amongst the devout women of high rank and the civic leaders. "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. But they shook off the dust of their feet against the town and went on to the city of Iconium. 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 fly out of the window. Perfectly rational people permit strange things to happen. Have you noticed in your own life or your church life what can happen when people feel threatened? Shaking off the dust of their feet against Antioch was a way of saying that the apostles wanted nothing more to do with that city. However, the new believers whom they had 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; 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 warnings about the "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 that He has called us to do. Focus on His eyes and ask Him to share His heart with us so that 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" (alone in His presence), all we do is driven 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.

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