First Missions and the scattering of the church Acts 11:19 – 13:end
We are going through the books of Acts, how the young church grew and have reached the point of full blown persecution and mission. The year I suggest would be 44AD, 11 years after Jesus had risen and the giving of God’s Spirit at Pentecost. Luke now covers highlights of the history of the young church and personalities begin to take over once persecutions again starts against the church in earnest.
Luke our historian, now deals more with the first missionaries Barnabas and Paul along with their influence on the growth of the church away from Jerusalem due to their journeys in what is now known as Turkey and Greece
Talk Session 9 Acts 11:19 to 13:end
Acts 11:19 – The Church in Antioch After Stephen was killed the persecution against Jesus followers started and they were scattered as far as (Foe/ne/cha) Phoenicia and Cyprus spreading the word only to other Jews, however at Antioch, the Greeks were also told about Jesus and large numbers came to believe in the Lord. Barnabas was sent to encourage the believers when he saw what the grace of God had already done, he went to Tarsus to find Saul and brought him to Antioch. Over the next year the two of them taught large numbers and the followers became known as Christians.
When the Followers of Jesus were persecuted the followers didn’t blame God or thinking where is God’s protection and they didn’t give up, instead they moved their families to new homes across the Roman Empire and particular in what is now Turkey. They found new jobs, new friends, continued to witness Jesus and they started communities which turned later into churches.
They first talked exclusively to other Jews in their synagogues telling them of the coming of Jesus their Messiah and they won new converts since the Messiah had been expected and Jesus’ life and teaching fitted in with many of the prophecies of course as Jesus did not become the expected warrior king there were many that did reject this new teaching.
The temple leaders never wanted to accept Jesus as the Messiah to them Jesus did the things that they didn’t expect the messiah to do. The main reason for the persecuted was he took away the Temple leaders authority for he taught a simple message that people could understand and relate to, a message that meant anyone could have a direct personnel relationship with God. So the priests needed to stop the truth of Jesus’ life and teaching being proclaimed. However when people witnessed those following the ways of Jesus they were challenged to assess they beliefs and as a consequence many came to see the truth that Jesus’ disciples taught.
It was in Antioch the grass route followers did something very different, they spoke to the Gentiles and these non-Jews reacted favourable, so much so that the leadership in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to help out. This was the man who gave everything he owned to the church and became a full time follower and leader. It was he who talked the disciples into accepting Saul who change his name to Paul in the first place. Barnabas remembered it was Paul who had seen Jesus on the road to Damascus and was told he would carry Jesus’ name to Gentiles and so he asked Paul to join him in his mission.
The mission to tell all people of Jesus, The Son of God had been started and now it was directed not only at the Jews but to Gentiles and it was in Antioch where the Church fully accepted Gentiles, outside Israel. In Greek, Messiah translates to Christ so Jesus the Messiah became Jesus Christ and followers of the Christ were then named Christians, this around 45AD. All that was happening must have been encouraging to the early church, Peter had baptised the Roman Cornelius and his family plus the mission to the world had started and is still going on some 2,000 years later
11:27 Agabus a prophet from Jerusalem was led by the Spirit to predict a severe famine across the Roman world so the disciples provided what help they could for the brothers and sisters living in Judea sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. (The famine happened during the reign of Claudius.)
Visions like Peter’s, before meeting Cornelius and this prophecy still happen today for example some years ago a lady who is now in South Africa saw a flaming wagon wheel which represented a Christian awaking in Coventry and sure enough there are now a number of churches filled with young people fired up to live their lives for Jesus. It shows that we can be aware of God speaking to us, telling us the future for prophecies are one of the gifts of the Spirit and are given to help us. When disasters do happen we are given the opportunity to help which within the UK people seem happy to do as it’s part of our Christian heritage
Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
12:1 , King Herod started arresting church members, he had James John’s brother killed. As the Jew’s approved Herod decided to hold a public trial after the Passover, he seize Peter setting prison guards of four squads of four soldiers each. The night before his trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. An angel woke Peter telling him to put on his clothes and follow him out of the prison, on the street the angel left him and Peter went to the house where many people were earnestly praying for him. He told them what happen then he left.
Finding Peter escaped, Herod cross-examined the guards then had them executed.
Herod Agrippa, was the grandson of the Herod The Great who had all the babies in Bethlehem murdered he was also nephew to Antipas who poured scorn upon Jesus when Pilate had sent Jesus to him trying not to be a pawn in Caiaphas plot. Now Herod Agrippa was a puppet king of the Romans and it was his job to collect their Taxes and ensure peace was kept in the land between the Jews, Romans and the Zealots
The followers of Jesus were an easy target as they were a small but growing sect of Jews hated by the Jewish priests and neither the Jewish Zealots nor the Romans had any interest in them so Herod could win friends and influence by helping the Sanhedrin leadership. History tells us people who climb the ladder of success rarely consider right or wrong they only want to sustain and grow their power base.
This is why we need to always remind ourselves of God’s ways which are very different, to care for others, put our neighbours on the same level as ourselves. When we want something we need to talk it over with Our Heavenly Father and be led by God’s own Holy Spirit in what we do. Peter obeyed the angel and escaped from prison, when the Angel left him he had to decide what to do for we are not actors given parts to play and words to say we have freewill to decide things for ourselves with the purpose of pleasing God in what we achieve.
12:19 Herod’s Death
Herod went to Caesarea where the people of Tyre and Sidon sought an audience with him. He had quarrelled with them and now they were asking for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply. Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Herod had misused his power when he had James killed, then the soldiers and now when pride and miss-placed arrogance makes him accept the accolade that he was God. Under Jewish law this carried the death sentence and it was interesting that it was an angel of the Lord that struck him down rather than him go on trial. I do wonder if the angel did it under his own will or that of God? Which leads on to do angels have freewill? Well those questions are for other time, what is without doubt is that Herod deserved his sentence, he was even given an omen beforehand. It was Josephus who reported Herod had seen an owl on a stick which is on its own a favourable sign but on seeing it a second time meant he would die within 5 days and indeed his death lingered on for 5 days.
Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
12:24. The word of God continued to spread and flourish, finishing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned with Mark to Antioch.
13:1 The church worshiped and fasted, then the Holy Spirit directed Barnabas and Saul to go to Cyprus with Mark. Saul then preferring to be called Paul proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues
At Paphos, the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, sent for Barnabas and Paul wanting to hear the word of God. A Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus an adviser to the proconsul tried to turn him from the faith. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You’re full of deceit, trickery and you pervert the ways of the Lord? The Lord’s hand is against you and you will be blind for a time.”
Immediately he groped about, seeking someone to lead him. The proconsul was amazed and he came to believe the teaching about the Lord.
Let’s compare ourselves to the early church and see how we do.
• They sent people on Missions
• Their church worshiped and fasted,
• The Holy Spirit directed people
• The Church leaders spoke out against deceit, trickery and false teaching
• They did miracles and converted many
• They had confidence to be led by God,
So how do we compare with those Christians?
Do we step out in faith to speak out of our love for God.
Do we do the work we know God wants us to do
Do we only join together for worship for just one hour a week?
Do we ever do a Church fasting?
Do we ever hear our leaders attack those corrupt elements of our society?
Do we see or expect to work miracles?
In Pisidian Antioch
13:13. Paul and his companions returned to Antioch while Mark went to Jerusalem. Paul speaking at the synagogue, said “Fellow Israelites and Gentiles who worship God, know The God of Israel chose our ancestors; they prospered over their 450 years in Egypt; he led them out of that country with mighty power, giving them Canaan. God gave them judges until the time of Samuel when the people asked for a king, first was Saul and then David who was a man after God’s own heart, As promised to David, God sent Jesus. John had proclaimed the Messiah and preached repentance and baptism to Israel.
It is to us children of Abraham and now to you God-fearing Gentiles, that this message of salvation has been sent. Jerusalem condemned Jesus, fulfilling the words of the prophets. They had Jesus executed on a cross, he was laid in a tomb and God raised him from the dead, his followers are the witnesses who saw him. God’s promise is fulfilled. As written:
‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ [Is 55:3]
‘The holy one will not see decay.’ [Ps 16:10]
Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. Everyone who believes in him is set free from every sin, which cannot be obtained under the Law of Moses. Take care what the prophets have said doesn’t happen to you:
‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something you would never believe.’[Hab 1:5]
Paul states Jews and Gentiles have equal opportunity of knowing Jesus and he outlines the history of God’s relationship and his promises to the Israelites culminating with His Son Jesus bringing forgiveness to all who believe in him.
Consider these prophecies about Jesus
• He is the Son of God made holy and will not see decay
• Forgiveness is not possible by just keeping God’s Law but only obtained though Jesus.
• Scoffers who don’t believe in the wonders that happened will perish
Paul tells of the Good news, we can be clean of sin in God’s eyes. This means that we can then be with him in his kingdom, that there is life after death and it is on offer to all people, those who believe are to be witnesses to the truth about Jesus’ life and are given the responsibility to show their love of God in what they do and say
Success and rejection
13: 42 Leaving the synagogue Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak again. The next Sabbath most of city gathered to hear God’s Word. The Jews filled with jealousy, contradicted and heaped abuse on them. The apostles boldly replied: “We spoke the word of God to you first, as you spurned it, you cannot consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, so we turn to the Gentiles as the Lord commanded: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ [Is 49:6]
The Gentiles were honoured b this and God’s word spread through the whole region. The Jewish leaders provoked the devout women and leaders of the city to expel Paul and Barnabas. The disciples filled with joy and the Holy Spirit left shaking the dust off their feet as a warning and going on to Iconium [I-co-de-m].
The people liked what Paul and Barnabas preached for both the Jews and the converted gentiles were impressed and wanted them to come back again. Word soon got round and people turned out en-mass to hear the disciples but then the same old problems reared they head, jealousy and resentment. It was the priests who feared losing their authority, their power, their money, their livelihood. They forced the two missionaries to leave, for there will always be people not liking God’s word and sometimes we have to acknowledge that and move on without them.
What we don’t do is become discouraged to the point that we give up trying to witness Jesus for not everyone will accept Jesus as their Saviour. The important thing for us is we need to grow in our relationship with God for having accepted Jesus into our lives we then need to accept his gifts and grow our relationship with him using his Holy Spirit to witness the love God has for us and for all people.