|A Christian Guide to Acts||by R. David Pogge|
Quite understandably, Luke (a Gentile) writing to Theophilus (a Gentile) devoted most of the Book of Acts to describing how the Gospel message was preached to the Gentiles. Paul’s ministry should serve as the example for our evangelistic efforts to Gentiles.
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Luke tells how Paul dealt with false prophets, and the results of his action.
They travelled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun."
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. [Acts 13:6-12]
Paul realized that Elymas was “a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right” who was “full of all kinds of deceit and trickery” and wasn’t afraid to say so. The Holy Spirt responded by striking Elymas blind, which caused Sergius Paulus to accept Jesus.
Perhaps if we would deal with people who are seeking to turn people away from the faith the same way Paul did, we would see similar results. Unfortunately, the verse, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” is often taken out of context, and used as an excuse not to oppose those people who condone sinful behavior. What Jesus actually said was,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. [Matthew 7:1-6]
Jesus made three important points in this short paragraph; but most people miss all three and take away a point opposite to what Jesus was saying. His advice can be summarized by two “don’t”s and one “do.”
If you are very critical of others, then others (including God) will be just as critical of you.
Don't let the plank in your own eye prevent you from helping your brother see. Jesus plainly said you are supposed to get the plank out of your eye, and then remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye. You need to see clearly so that you can remove the speck from your brother’s eye. You have to judge between right and wrong to do that.
Jesus was not talking about how to treat dogs or pigs. He was talking about people. You know not to put a pearl necklace on a pig because the pig will never appreciate it. You should also realize that some poeple will never appreciate the gift God is offering them. Don't waste your time on them. Shake their dust off your feet and move on.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. [Matthew 10:14 (and Mark 6:11 and Luke 9:5)]
So they [Paul and Barnabas] shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. [Acts 13:51]
Sadly, most people just think Jesus’s advice is to let others persist in sin. For example, the Corinthians were proud of how tolerant and non-judgmental they were. Paul had something to say about that.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” [1 Corinthians 5:1-13]
You may be surprised by two things in this passage because they aren’t taught very often (if at all) in modern Christian churches.
If Paul had thought the law should be replaced by graceful tolerance, and the Jewish customs should be replaced by pagan customs, he would not have written this to the Corinthians.
Preachers generally apply the verse about taking the plank of our own eye before removing the speck in some else’s eye on an individual level—but it applies at the congregational level, too. How can a congregation teach the world to obey God when that church is violating one of the Ten Commandments every week? A church has to be teaching and obeying Jesus' Gospel before it can spread that Gospel to the world.
Here is the first sermon Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch.
From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”
Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; for about forty years he endured their conduct 1 in the wilderness; and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years.
“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
“Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:
“‘You are my son;
God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ 3 ”
So it is also stated elsewhere:
“‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ 4
“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
“‘Look, you scoffers,
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. [Acts 13:14-44]
In summary, He told them the Old Testament history, beginning with Moses in Egypt and going through the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, with special emphasis on several specific Messianic prophecies. Then he told them about Jesus, how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies, but was rejected.
They all respected King David, so Paul said,
After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”
From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. [Acts 13:22-23]
Genealogy is important. Not just anybody can claim to be the Messiah. The scriptures said the Messiah would be a descendant of David. Jesus was.
Paul went on to say,
Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. ... We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. [Acts 13:26-27, 32-33]
The message of salvation is for us! The prophecies have been fulfilled!
Paul concludes with a promise and a warning.
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you. [Acts 13:38-40]
Presumably, Paul went on to explain what he meant by being “set free from every sin” through “a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” He probably told them the same thing he told the Romans.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. [Romans 8:1-13]
Paul promised them victory over sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. That promise is for us, too.
The sermon that Paul preached is essentially the same as the one Stephen preached in Acts 7, which is like the one Philip preached in Acts 8, which is no different from what Peter preached in Acts 10. They all began with Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Then they followed this up by declaring the sinfulness of sin, the necessity of repentance, obedience and reformation; ending up with the promise of forgiveness of confessed sin. Since they all preached the same message, we should preach that same message, too.
Section 7.3 - No Meeting Tomorrow
Something significant happened at the end of Paul’s sermon.
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. … On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. [Acts 13:42, 44]
The whole city did not come back for the Sunday morning Christian worship service. They didn’t come back again until next Saturday. That’s because Paul and Barnabas didn’t worship on Sunday mornings. It would be about 300 years later when the Catholic Church would change the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday so as not to “Judaize.” 6 Paul and Barnabas kept the Sabbath, and they expected the Gentile converts to keep the Sabbath Commandment (and the other nine commandments) too.
If Jesus had nailed the Sabbath Commandment to the cross, this would have been the perfect time for Paul to invite the whole city to worship on Sunday morning because they were now “free from the law,” including the "Jewish" Sabbath. He didn’t do that because Paul didn’t believe the Sabbath was abolished just to make it easier for Gentiles to join the church. Jewish and Gentile Christians worshipped together on the Sabbath.
Acts chapters 13 and 14 tell about the persecution and opposition Paul and Barnabas endured. If Paul had preached smooth words that itching ears long to hear, there would have been no opposition. Itching ears want to hear that we have been freed from God’s law, and don’t have to obey the Ten Commandments any more. But, just like Jesus, Paul’s message was not what people wanted to hear.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:17-20]
Jesus clearly knew this would not be a popular doctrine because He said,
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. [Matthew 10:34]
Just as the world hated Jesus for preaching the truth, the world hated Paul, too. But Paul could take comfort in Jesus’s words,
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. [John 15:18]
That is exactly what happened.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel. [Acts 13:45-14:7]
That’s a story repeated often in the Book of Acts. “A great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. … There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel.”
There are three several possible responses to persecution. The first is to renounce your faith. The second is to flee. The last is to die for your faith.
The last certainly is the last because you can’t do anything else after you die. The last is the most noble; but the second is more practical. As the rhyme says, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” Paul fled from place to place, and was persecuted everywhere he went; but he didn’t give up.
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. [2 Corinthians 11:23-27]
Paul suffered all that to obey God. What would you suffer to obey God? Would you give up your life?
In America today, it is unlikely you will have to choose between Jesus and death. In other parts of the world, it is a capital crime to confess your faith in Jesus; but not here. Have you ever wondered if you would have the courage to die for your faith? You have probably hoped two things: First, that you really would die for Jesus. Second, that you will never have to find out.
Would you give up your life to obey God? That’s a tough, sobering question. You probably hope you would be so dedicated that you would give up anything, even your life, to obey God. It is impossible to know, unless the situation arises.
Many Christians say they would give up everything for God, and that they have totally surrendered their lives to God. Are they fooling themselves? How much money do they give up for God? If they aren’t willing to give up one tenth of their income for God, how sincere is their faith? If they aren’t willing to give up one day each week for God, how sincere is their faith?
Tithing and Sabbath-keeping are tests of faith because money and time reflect your values. You can tell what people really love by seeing how they spend their time and money. If they devote more time and money on God’s work than on their own pleasure, it is a good indication of what their hearts really desire.
There is an even easier test of obedience which many Christians fail. God commanded that just a few foods should not be eaten. Those foods happen to be unhealthy, so you would be better off not to eat them—but that’s beside the point. God said not to eat them. That’s all that matters. You have to choose between obeying God or satisfying your appetite.
It isn’t as if you are stranded on a deserted island and all you can find to eat are clams, and you have to choose between eating the clams and starving to death. That really would be a test of whether or not you would die for God. But you aren’t starving. You can survive perfectly well for the rest of your life without eating another clam.
Bacon tastes good. So, there is an understandable desire to try to justify eating it by saying that the kosher laws were just for the Jews. The fact is that Gentiles were told three times in the Book of Acts to keep the kosher food laws. 8
Some people claim Jesus cleansed all food when He said that what comes out of your mouth defiles you more than what goes in your mouth. 9 Consciously or unconsciously they misconstrue what Jesus meant. He used this comparison because his audience knew how terribly defiled they would be by eating unclean food, and He wanted them to realize that speaking unclean words defiles them even more. Searching for justification to disobey God’s clear instructions not to eat certain foods, they try to twist His words to mean that what you eat doesn’t defile you. (Technically, it isn’t the food that defiles you—it is your disobedience which defiles you.)
The BeeGees asked, “How deep is your love?” God asks the same question. Is your love deep enough that you won’t eat another shrimp?
Paul got the respect of the people in Lystra by healing a cripple. This had more than the intended effect because the heathens there mistook Paul and Barnabas for gods. He had to set them straight.
Paul told the people of Lystra the Good News—but the Good News is hard to hear.
We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things [idols] to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. [Acts 14:15-17]
Paul told them that, instead of the many gods they worshipped, they had to obey the First and Second Commandments and worship only “the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” This is the eternal gospel the angels also preach.
Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” [Revelation 14:6-7]
The Eternal Gospel, which should be preached at all times to all people, is a message of judgment and creation, so that is what Paul preached at Lystra. What he preached in Lystra he would later preach in Athens, and to the Romans.
We should preach the same gospel of creation, judgment, repentance, confession, and forgiveness. We should not turn to another gospel which is not gospel at all, like the Galatians did. Paul warned them:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. [Galatians 1:6-10]
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 17:30-31]
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. [Romans 1:20]
Creation and judgment are self-evident. You cannot plead ignorance about either one. After the judgment, Jesus will re-create the world for those who have obeyed Him in this world.
At the end of his first missionary journey, Paul backtracked to Jerusalem, repeating the Gospel.
They preached the gospel in that city [Derbe] and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. [Acts 14:21-22]
Itching ears want to hear about how easy it is to be saved. They want to be told that they won’t have any more trouble after they accept Jesus, so that’s what many preachers tell them. Paul and Barnabas weren’t two of those preachers. It isn’t easy to enter the kingdom of God. It takes sacrifice and commitment. You must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.
Despite preaching this tough message, many sincere people became Christians after hearing Paul (and Stephen, and Philip, and Peter) preach this truth. This tough message is still used by the Holy Spirit today to bring people to Christ.
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Footnotes:1 Some manuscripts he cared for them