WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART TWENTY

SERMON DELIVERED ON 11-10-18

       I concluded my last sermon in my series on the Book of Acts with the account of King Herod dying because he failed to reject or rebuke the crowd for looking upon him as a God.  We saw that because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.  We also looked at the account of this event by the first century Jewish historian Josephus who gives a lot more detail.  Following Luke’s account of the death of Herod he records the following:

       Acts 12:24-25 But the word of God continued to increase and spread.  When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

       The apparent mission Barnabas and Saul finished was their delivery of gifts to the brothers living in Judea to help prepare for a famine that had been predicted to spread over the entire Roman Empire.  It is recorded at the end of Acts 11 that the disciples in Antioch provided help for the brothers living in Judea and their gifts were delivered by Barnabas and Saul. It is instructive that this famine is mentioned in the historical writings of first century Jewish historian Josephus and Roman historian Suetonius.

       It is apparent Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch after making their delivery and took with them John Mark. As covered in a previous sermon in this series, Paul had the Hebrew name Saul and the Roman name Paul. We see the same with John Mark. The name John was a Hebrew name and the name Mark was a Roman name. Whether this meant John Mark had Roman citizenship isn’t revealed.

        We know from Acts 12:12, as previously covered, that the mother of John Mark was a woman named Mary.  Mary apparently was a common name in NT times. The name Mary is the Greek form of the Hebrew word for MiriamThere are no less than seven different Mary’s mentioned in the NT narrative.  As covered last time, it was to the home of Mary the mother of John Mark that Peter went after his miraculous escape from prison.  Colossians 4:10 indicates John Mark was a cousin of Barnabas.  It is generally believed it is John Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark and what he wrote he largely got from Peter.  Some have gone so far as to look upon the Gospel of Mark as virtually the Gospel of Peter.

        There is an interesting passage in Mark 14 where after Jesus was arrested it is recorded that everyone deserted him and fled.  It is then recorded that a young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. The authorities seized him but he was able to get away leaving his garment behind and fled away naked.  It is commonly believed Mark was this man and he was talking about himself in this passage.  Let’s now move on to Acts chapter 13.

       Acts 13:1: In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.

       Acts chapter 13 begins with discussion of the make up of the church at Antioch.  This is referring to Antioch Syria. There is another Antioch seen in Scripture located in an area called Pisidian.  We will later see Paul and apparently Barnabas travelling to this Antioch as well. Here is a map showing the travels of Paul and his companions on what is generally referred to as Paul's first missionary journey.

       There is reference here to a man named Manaen who was brought up with Herod the Tetrarch.  In the last sermon in this series we talked about Herod Agrippa, the king who had Apostle James put to death and later died himself as penalty for failing to condemn those who looked upon him as a God.  The Herod mentioned here in Acts 13:1 is not that king Herod.  As previously discussed, Herod was a family name and consisted of descendents of Esau who rose to power in the first century as client kings of Rome. 

       The king mentioned here appears to be Herod Antipas who governed Galilee from 4 BC to AD 39.  This is the Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded and who is mentioned a number of times in the Gospels.  He is referred to as “the tetrarch.”  A tetrarch was a ruler with rank and authority lower than that of a king.   They were equivalent to being governor over a region. Since they had the authority of Rome behind them, they were essentially seen as client kings of Rome.  Several times in the NT, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee is called a king (Matt 14:9, Mark 6:14-29).  Let’s continue now in Acts 13.

       Acts 13:2-5:  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

       We have Saul, Barnabas and John Mark travelling from Antioch in Syria to Seleucia on the Mediterranean and then sailing to Salamis on the island of Cyprus where they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogue that was located there.  Seleucia is 16 miles from Antioch and was at the time a seaport for Antioch.  Salamis is 100 miles from Seleucia.

       It is recorded that while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said certain things. In a previous sermon in this series, we looked at the Greek word proskuneo which means to prostrate oneself before someone in reference and worship. Proskuneo appears 60 times in the NT and is generally rendered as worship or worshiping.

       Here in Acts 13:2 it is a different Greek word rendered “worshiping.”  Here the Greek word is litourgeo (li-toorg-eh'-o).  The word appears 3 times in the NT and has the basic meaning of being a public servant.  This word is frequently used in the Septuagint, to describe service performed by priests and Levites in the tabernacle.  In Romans 15:27, Paul uses this word to show the Gentiles contributing to the physical needs of the saints at Jerusalem.

       Here in Acts 13:2 most translations render this word as “ministering.”  The NET translation renders it as “serving.”  The “they” who are mentioned as serving the Lord and fasting appear to be the prophets and teachers mentioned in verse one.  Since they are seen as fasting, it is apparent they were seeking God’s guidance in making some very important decisions as to the direction they should go with their ministries.  Their diligence paid off as it is recorded that the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."

       What does it mean to say the Holy Spirit said or the Holy Spirit spoke?  Is there an audible voice that the recipient hears?  Is it a strong impression that is made on the mind?  How does one know it is the Holy Spirit providing input and not ones own Spirit or mind that is speaking?  Many Christians over time have believed the Holy Spirit has spoken to them.  How do they know it is the Holy Spirit?

       We see several occurrences in the book of Acts where it is recorded the Holy Spirit spoke.  We saw in Acts 8 earlier in this series that the Spirit told Philip to go to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch.  We recently saw in Acts 10 the Spirit telling Peter to go with the three men Cornelius had sent.  In Acts 21 it is recorded that through the prophet Agabus the Holy Spirit spoke of how Paul would be treated by the Jews if he chose to go to Jerusalem.

       The Greek word rendered speaks or spoke is a very common Greek verb that appears 976 times in the NT and simply means to speak.  This verb is almost exclusively seen in the NT as someone audibly speaking out loud to another person.      

       So when it is said in Scripture that the Holy Spirit speaks to someone, is God, through His Spirit, actually speaking out loud to someone?  It could certainly mean that.  However, it is more likely God through His Spirit is communicating with the spirit that resides in man.

       1 Corinthians 2:11-12: For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

       It is apparent we have spirit and it is through our spirit we know our thoughts. It is apparent God has spirit and knows His thoughts through His Spirit.  When God gives us of His Spirit, God is essentially communicating His thoughts to our spirit. So when it is said the Spirit spoke to someone, it is very likely this is God’s spirit communicating with the spirit in man. Knowing that it is the Spirit of God speaking and not just ones own thoughts is the tricky part.

       Throughout Church history people have claimed to speak by the Spirit of God. It is evident in OT times that there were prophets who claimed to be speaking the word of the Lord when it was evident they were only speaking from their own spirit.

      Ezekiel 13:2-3: "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: `Hear the word of the LORD!  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!

       As already indicated, knowing that it is the Spirit of God communicating with our spirit is not always easily discerned. As covered earlier in this series, there are those in charismatic churches who claim to interpret tongues through the Spirit of God.  As I documented, this practice has been shown to be highly problematical.  

       We certainly understand that God communicates with us through the Scriptures. How we can know how and when He is communicating with us in other ways is a little more complicated.  I hope to explore this issue in greater depth at some point in the future and hopefully bring you a whole sermon on the topic.

       Now let’s get back to Acts 13:2-5.  We see that Paul and Barnabas are led by the Spirit to embark together on a missionary journey and they take John Mark with them.  We see that when they reached Salamis on the island of Cyprus, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.  At this point it is apparent they were still only preaching in Jewish synagogues. 

       It is recorded they traveled through the whole island until they came to a city called Paphos which is around 100 miles from Salamis.  There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus.  Bar-Jesus means “son of Joshua.”   This man was an attendant of the proconsul of Paphos whose name was Sergius Paulus.  A proconsul was a Roman official who ruled over a province traditionally under the control of the Roman senate.

       Acts 13: 6-8: They traveled 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. 

       It is recorded that the proconsul was an intelligent man who had sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. It is instructive that the proconsul is said to be an intelligent man and yet had as his assistant a sorcerer (a magician) who is also seen as a false prophet.  How often do we see in government today seemingly intelligent people who have people of questionable character working for them?

       Saul and Barnabas apparently shared the gospel message with the proconsul but the sorcerer opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.  It is recorded that that Saul, who for the first time is called Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit and really laid into this guy.  God cast judgement upon this sorcerer by causing him to become blind.  It is recorded that when the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.  I discussed in a past sermon how Saul was also Paul and that from this point forward in Acts, he is always called Paul.

       Acts 13:13-14: From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down.

       We see Paul and his companions enter the synagogue on the Sabbath where the synagogue rulers read from the Law and the Prophets and then asked Paul and His companions if they would like to speak. Paul proceeds to address them as “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!

       The Gentiles in the synagogue were worshippers of the God of Israel. They were Gentile proselytes which means they were Gentiles who had religiously become Jews.  They had come to embrace the Jewish religious system and were keeping the Mosaic regulations.  That these Gentiles were proselytes of Judaism is confirmed in verse 42.

       Acts 13:42: 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.

       I will be saying more about Gentile proselytes in the next sermon in this series.  In verses 17 through 41, Paul presents a brief history of Israel in Egypt and in the Promised Land.  He spoke of judges ruling Israel followed by King Saul and King David and how from the ancestry of David Jesus was born.  He spoke of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.  Paul then covers the crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection and how through Jesus God has brought salvation to Israel.  He quotes from OT prophecy to back up what he was saying and concludes with the following:

       Acts 13:38-39: Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.

       It must be noted that Paul is speaking to Old Covenant Jews and converts to Judaism.  He is speaking to a group who keeps the Law of Moses and tells them they can be justified through Christ from everything they could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.  

       This is big.  The Jews believed they could be justified by keeping the Law of Moses.  Paul is telling them this is not the case.  It is only through Christ such justification can occur.  This being the case, it is interesting that the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.  Apparently their interest had been perked. It is recorded that on the next Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But then trouble erupted.

        It is recorded that when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. This was probably the Jewish leadership that became filled with jealously. After all, it was Jews and Gentile proselytes at the Jewish synagogue who invited Paul and Barnabas to return so they could hear more about Christ,

       In response to the Jewish resistance, Paul and Barnabas advised that they had to speak the word of God to the Jews first but since they reject it and do not consider themselves worthy of eternal life they would now turn to the Gentiles.  Upon hearing this, the Gentiles are seen as being glad and honoring the word and all who were appointed to eternal life believed.

       Acts 13:46: 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.

       Acts 13:48:  When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed (ordained in some translations) for eternal life believed.

       What is meant by “and all who were appointed or ordained for eternal life believed.”  Those who follow the teaching of sixteenth century theologian John Calvin use this passage along with other NT Scripture to teach that only those God specifically appoints or predestines to receive salvation will receive salvation.  Everyone else is eternally lost.  This teaching, commonly referred to as Calvinism, is found in what is called "Covenant" or "Reformed" theology.  It is taught in Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Dutch and German reformed churches, some Baptist groups and a variety of other Christian denominations.

       Is it Calvinism that is being suggested here in Acts 13:48?  Were only certain Gentiles being singled out to receive eternal life?  Let me answer that question with a few Scriptures.

       1 Timothy 2: 3-6: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time.

       1 John 2:2:  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.      

       2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

       I could offer a number of additional Scriptures that show salvation is open to all humans and not just to a comparatively few who happen to be preordained by God to receive eternal life.  So what does the writer mean by saying “and all who were appointed or ordained for eternal life believed.”

       It appears the best way to understand this passage is to see it in contrast to what is recorded in verse 46. As already discussed, the Jewish leadership in Antioch grew jealous of the response they were seeing to the teaching of Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas then advised them that they had to speak the word of God to the Jews first but since they rejected it and did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life, they would now turn to the Gentiles.

       Scripture reveals the Gentiles by and large did consider themselves worthy of eternal life in that they were very responsive to the salvation message. According to Strong’s Greek Lexicon, the Greek word rendered appointed/ordained can also be rendered “to assign or dispose to a certain position.”  It is very apparent the Gentiles were disposed to see themselves as worthy of eternal life while the Jews were not because they would not accept the message of salvation to eternal life through the Christ event. 

       This appears to be the best explanation of the phrase “and all who were appointed or ordained for eternal life believed.”  The writer appears to be saying that all disposed or orientated to eternal life believed. This explanation is congruent with the many Scriptures that make it evident salvation is available to all mankind and not just to a select few as taught by Calvinism. 

       Acts 13 ends with it being recorded that, “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.”  But the Jews stirred up a number of women of high standing along with leading men of the city resulting in Paul and Barnabas being booted out of the region.  It’s recorded that Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. Iconium was a city   about 90 miles southeast of Pisidian Antioch.

       Acts 13:51: So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.

              It appears Paul and Barnabas were following the instruction of Jesus in shaking the dust off their feet.

       Matthew 10:14: If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.

       Mark 6:11: If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.

       Luke 9:5: If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them."

             In the next sermon in this series, we will join Paul and Barnabas in Iconium.

PART TWENTY-ONE