The In-Between Years Part - 61
Series: The In-Between Years
March 06, 2022
The In-Between Years — Part 61
I’m amazed at how dedicated some history buffs are. Especially those who zero in on events such as the Civil War or WWII. I also appreciate those who trace their ancestry, although I’m not going to let men DNA get in some database! Anyway, it’s profitable to know our past because in may ways it defines or explains our present.
As we spend the rest of our series looking at the missionary endeavors of Paul, we should pay special attention. Luke records the details of our Christian heritage. It is from this first missionary journey and the others we trace our roots as modern, Gentile believers. The reason we are sitting here this morning is because the church at Antioch commissioned and sent Barnabas and Paul to share the gospel to the ends of the earth. Studying the book of Acts is good for us because our past as Christians defines and explains our present.
Just so you know, I’m an ancient biblical history buff. I don’t know much about the Civil War or WWII, but I am deeply interested in the events and people of the 1st Century as it relates to the Bible. Unlike my wife, I’m not a fan of cruises, but my dream is to one day cruise the Mediterranean, tracing Paul’s missionary journeys.
Here’s where we left off last week. On their first journey as commissioned missionaries, Paul and Barnabas led the governor of Cyprus to Jesus, a Gentile named Sergius Paulus. This happened in the city of Paphos. Remember this guy, because he’s not out of the picture just yet. Now on to verse 13 of chapter 13…
13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. Acts 13:13–14 (ESV)
So as they returned from the island of Cyprus to the mainland of Asia Minor, they headed straight to a big city (remember Paul’s strategy). That city was Antioch. Now if you’ve been keeping up, you’re thinking, “OK. Sure Antioch. The city quickly becoming a new headquarters for Christianity. The place where Christ-followers were first called Christians. The city where Paul and Barnabas were commissioned for their work. That was a quick journey, right?”
Nope. Not that Antioch. That was Antioch of Syria. This is — and Luke is careful to make it clear — Antioch in Pisidia. Same name, different region. Did you know there are 21 places named Pleasant View in America? There is one place named Pleasant View in South Africa. And there is one place named Pleasant View in Panama. If FBC Pleasant View Panama comes open, I’m not making any promises.
Like Antioch in Syria, Pisidian Antioch was an important, large city in the Roman Empire. It was known for a number of things, such as splendid buildings dedicated to the Emperor and wards dedicated to prominent landmarks or institutions of Rome itself. In other words, when you went there you got the feel, on a much smaller scale, you were in Rome. But what I find most interesting is that many years prior, the Roman Emperor Augustus had established it is as a “Roman colony and populated it with veterans from the legions.” So certainly by the time of Paul’s arrival it was filled with retired military and their families. Remember that.
Once again, I feel like I need to ask, why? Why this particular big city? You remember how we discovered that Barnabas and John Mark, who were cousins, came from Cyprus? And that most likely the reason they went there first?
Well, believe it or not, we are almost certain we know why Barnabas and Paul went here. Sergius Paullus had roots in, you guessed it, Antioch of Pisidia. One scholar writes, “We now know that Sergius Paullus… himself came from Pisidian Antioch: members of his family received honors there and intermarried with another prominent local family [in the city]… It is overwhelmingly likely that Paul… was directed to Antioch by his recent convert.”
BTW, this is why I feel certain Sergius Paulus was truly converted. I didn’t mention it last time, but some scholars think Luke left that somewhat vague. Paul and Barnabas must have went to Pisidian Antioch because Paulus asked them to find his family back home and share the good news. To me that’s a sign he truly believed.
This shores up something I’ve discovered not just from the Scripture but from experience: the gospel is its most powerful and transformational when it’s relational. That’s the model of Acts.
Impromptu personal witnessing surely had its place in the early church, but mostly, the gospel was shared by individuals in the context of relationships. Look with me real quick at…
42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. Acts 5:42 (ESV)
We see that in Acts and think the early church randomly went door-to-door asking people if they died right then did they know for certain they’d go t heaven when they died (like Baptists in particular have done for years). But in truth their house-to-house evangelism was very intentional and anything but random. They went house-to-house connecting to people through an extended, intimate shared meal. They almost certainly knew the people they sat down with. Hospitality was huge to ancient middle eastern culture as it today. They leveraged that to witness very effectively. This will be important for us soon.
Let’s move on in our text. Paul and Barnabas practiced their strategy by hitting a big city and immediately entering the synagogue (to the Jew first)…
15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” Acts 13:15 (ESV)
Here’s another why? Can you guess what it is? Why did they call upon them? They obviously weren’t from around there. I wouldn’t ask that of strangers sitting in my sanctuary on a Sunday morning. So why? Here’s possible answer. Paul had been a Pharisee, a rising star among the Jewish elite trained by the super famous Rabbi Gamaliel. Note what Jesus said about the Pharisees…
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, Matthew 23:1–5 (ESV)
In other words, you could tell who a Pharisee was by the way he dressed. Yes, it was customary back then for synagogues to let visitors share a word, but I wouldn’t put it past Paul to wear his garb so that he sure to gain an audience in the synagogues. He went in uniform so they’d know he was an important guest!
This takes me right back to what we’ve already looked at concerning Paul’s name change to be more effective among the Gentiles…
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19–23 (ESV)
Here he leverages his Jewishness to win the Jews! We’ll see later on how he changes his strategy to win the Gentiles. What are we leveraging in our lives so that by all means we might save some?
The synagogue leaders saw they had distinguished guests so they asked for a word. As we will see, Paul never turns down an invitation to speak about Jesus…
16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. Acts 13:16 (ESV)
That, and the message Paul preaches following, should produce a bit of deja vu. It feels like we’ve been here before. And we have way back in chapter two when Peter stood up to preach his first sermon at Pentecost to the many Jews gathered for the festival in Jerusalem — the first sermon ever preached after the church was born…
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. Acts 2:14 (ESV)
And then again when Stephen stood before the Jewish council known as the Sanhedrin to preach a lengthy history of Israel leading up to Jesus’ coming…
1 And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me… Acts 7:1–2a (ESV)
Now look again at Acts 13:16…
16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. Acts 13:16 (ESV)
See the similarities?
Before we look at Paul’s sermon, note the audience he addresses: men of Israel and you who fear God.
Those are two distinct groups. Men of Israel are the Jews, Paul’s kinsmen, but those who fear God are not the same ethnic identity. They are Gentile converts to Judaism. Gentile converts are called God-fearers. Evidently, at Antioch in Pisidia, God-fearers, Gentiles who worshipped YAHWEH, made up a significant and influential group among the Jewish population (you’ll see this even more so later).
Now, remember how I told you the city had to have been full of retired military and their families? If you study the NT, specifically the gospels and Acts, what military officer do you see highlighted over and over and always in a good light? Roman Centurions. They were the backbone of the Roman military. Jesus met one who had the greatest faith he had ever seen, even among the Jews! A centurion saw Jesus die on the cross and declared, “Truly this was the Son of God.” And then we have the God-fearer and centurion, Cornelius, whom we met in chapter 10. He and all his household came to faith.
There had to be God-fearing Roman centurions and their families in that synagogue. Remember that for next time.
Now to the message. Note that it is crafted to reach an audience steeped in the OT Scriptures. Paul begins with Israel’s calling as God’s people…
17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. Acts 13:17–19 (ESV)
Much like, Stephen, but in less detail and much more condensed, Paul offers a history lesson of sorts, covering the highlights of what gave the Jews their identity as YAHWEH’s covenant people. He moves quickly on…
20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. Acts 13:20–21 (ESV)
For many years the Jews lived under the leadership of Judges where we see that repeating cycle of wandering away, oppression from outside nations, repentance, and deliverance until, finally, after much begging and whining, the Israelites are given a king to rule over them. This opens the door for Paul to narrow things down where he can get to the heart of his message…
22 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Acts 13:22 (ESV)
Saul disqualified himself through disobedience, so God chose and anointed the shepherd-boy, David, as king. You can’t think about David without thinking about the Messiah. The two are so closely linked.
All Jews and God-fearers knew that the long awaited Messiah, the One who would come to defeat God’s enemies, re-establish Israel, and rule God’s kingdom forever would come from the line of David. This truly piqued their interest.
Here we go, here’s what Paul could not wait to share, here’s the core of his sermon…
23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Acts 13:23 (ESV)
Jesus, a descendant of David, was/is the Messiah, Israel and the whole world’s savior. This would have made them catch their breath!
But Paul kept going. God had, in fact, announced is coming with John the Baptist…
24 Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ Acts 13:24–25 (ESV)
Paul stressed the ministry of John the Baptist. The strange dressing man who preached a message of repentance…
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:1–4 (ESV)
I tend to overlook John the Baptist, yet he is mentioned in all four gospels and especially in the beginning of John the Apostle’s gospel. The focus is surely on Jesus, but John the Baptist is unmistakably present also…
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. 19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:1–28 (ESV)
My favorite NT scholar writes…
It is interesting to find John the Baptist playing such a prominent role in verses 24 and 25, corresponding of course to the place he has in all four gospels. It is as though one could hardly expect the Messiah to come unannounced, without Israel being prepared. And John, according to Paul here, was doing two things in particular. He was getting people to repent, to turn back from everything which would hinder them from joining in the new work of God’s kingdom. And he was pointing ahead to the one who was coming. Paul is setting up a system of signposts, from David a thousand years before to John a mere 15 or so years earlier. And all the signposts point to one person: Jesus the Messiah, the Rescuer. Paul’s strategy is a challenge to us all, to understand our audience well enough to know how to tell them the story in a way they will find compelling, how to set up signposts in a language they can read.
Conclusion: Paul has narrowed the focus of his sermon down to Jesus. But he’s far from done. He has more to share. Jesus is the Messiah and through him, Paul will preach, both Jews and Gentiles have more than just a political deliverer. The response will be mixed, with one group more receptive than the other, which ties into presence of military folk. And we will see that next time.
Just like Stephen and Peter, Paul tells the overarching, cosmic story of what God did to set this world and us back to rights, the good news that God has fulfilled his promises to Israel through Jesus and has extended his favor even to the Gentiles. Truly, just as God promised beforehand, in Jesus all the families of the earth are blessed.
Jesus came to save us from our sins. He came to live the life we should have lived and die the death we should have died. He came back from the dead to show us he really is the Son of God and able to save us. That story, that true story, is given so that God can write you into it.
The way you become part of God’s big story is to take him up on his promise…
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
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