The Book of Acts (Part 24)


The Book of Acts (Chapter 13:13-52) (Part 24)

Paul and Barnabas had been sent out on their missionary journey by the Holy Spirit and there were others that accompanied them as well including Luke who wrote the book of Acts. It is one thing to be called by God to a field of ministry and service but something more to be equipped and thrust out by the same Holy Spirit. Paul and Barnabas had been down there at Antioch ministering alongside other prophets and teachers exercising a regular ministry within the local assembly. It was clearly evident to everyone that these men were called and gifted for the missionary work God had for them but the whole assembly waited upon the Holy Spirit to give the command to go. Furthermore the leaders at Antioch did not sit around drinking coffee or have a prayer meeting once a week on a Wednesday night but gave themselves to prayer and fasting until the Holy Spirit spoke to them.

Sent out by the Holy Spirit

One of the problems we face today is that there are those being trained for the Mission field that have never been baptised with the Holy Spirit or sent out by the Holy Spirit. Without the Baptism of power and the timing of the Holy Spirit, many a missionary work has been hindered.  A man or woman may be called and have the necessary gifts but have not been empowered by the Holy Spirit for the task God has assigned for them. So then Paul and Barnabas had been sent on their way by the Holy Spirit and with the blessing and support of the local assembly down there at Antioch.

(Vs.13-15)  “Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.”

The Apostle Paul was Jewish and carried a burden for the salvation of the Jewish people. (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1) He always went into the Synagogue first of all as this was his pattern of ministry. As he later wrote to the assembly at Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). His first concern was to reach the Jewish people, however as we will see God had to arrange things so that he would focus on the Gentiles. John had left them at Perga.

However, we find Paul and his companions sitting in a Jewish synagogue during a worship service in Pisidian Antioch. Everything was progressing as normal. Their turn came to bring an exhortation. Paul stood up in the synagogue and began to preach. He started out with Israel’s history but his intent was to draw their attention to the Lord Jesus as Lord Saviour and their Messiah. And so we read…

(Vs.16-22)  “Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. When He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance—all of which took about four hundred and fifty years. After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 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. After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’”

Paul began his sermon by speaking about the Exodus because Moses was a type of Christ and Egypt a type of the world and the sprinkled blood a type of the Blood of Christ shed to atone for Israel’s sin as well as the sins of the whole world. He spoke about the Israelites victories in the Land of Canaan. He then spoke about the judges God raised up to govern and to guide His people. He also mentioned that the LORD put up with the grumbling Israelites the wilderness and how the people asked for a king to be like the others nations and God gave them one. Of course he turned out to be a failure.

Paul was already driving the point home that Israel as a nation was still rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God and the greatest of all Israel’s prophets, priests and kings. He went on to mention King David who in type and shadow represented the Lord Jesus Christ. King David was a man after God’s own heart whose only desire was to do His will. Everyone in the synagogue remembered King David and what he did and how God favoured him. Paul was very quick to bring his focus onto the Lord Jesus.

(Vs.23-25)  “From the descendants of this man (David), according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’”

Lineage and genealogy were very important to the Jewish way of thinking especially the Jewish religious leaders. Undoubtedly, Paul was aware of this and spoke about Jesus’ lineage. He then went on to speak about John the Baptist whom they would have known about whose main emphasis was on a baptism for repentance and who was himself a forerunner announcing the Messiah. Again Paul drew their attention to the Lord Jesus the one whom John the Baptist had spoken about to the people. He was also careful to point out that John was not the Messiah. He also emphasized the humility of John in that he demonstrated a total submission to Jesus and that he was not worthy of such a one as Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

(Vs.26-29)  “Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.”

Paul was just warming up. He started to focus more on the salvation God had provided for Israel in the Lord Jesus. He then started to focus on the religious leaders who organized the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. He went on to say that they did not recognize Jesus for who He was nor have insight to what the prophets had spoken about concerning Him. A veil was over their hearts as it has always been since the time the Lord Jesus walked this earth until today. Every Sabbath the Jewish religious leaders read aloud the Word of God in the synagogues but there was no revelation of it to their minds and hearts. Israel as a nation is still rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is going to take the Time of Jacob’s Trouble to bring them as a nation to the foot of the cross. Paul also told them plainly that even the betrayal of Jesus by His brethren was also foretold in scripture and that He had been unjustly condemned tried and executed and then his body lay in the tomb. Up until this point no one would have argued about what Paul had said. They would have even nodded their heads at what he had been saying. Now the crunch came!

(Vs.30-37)  “But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.’ As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.

Whenever the resurrection of Jesus is preached and proclaimed all of hell is shaken. As Paul later wrote; “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). The rulers of this age are the demonic spirits and powers of wickedness in high places. Clearly the resurrection gave them a shock! The demons including Satan himself thought that once the Lord Jesus was dead and buried that their worries were over. Well they were greatly mistaken. Satan cannot stand the preaching of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Satan well knows that men will have a Jesus who is a good man and rather benevolent and a rather indulgent kind of figure who winks the eye at sin. They will have a Jesus who is a prophet and a good man or one who was a great force for good in this world. They will have Him as a great religious leader who lived centuries ago and was a great humanitarian and went about doing good. They will have a Jesus like that but when it comes to a man who was dead and came back to life to live forever they “ark up” big time!

His resurrection from the dead showed the whole world and the devils in hell that through the Spirit of holiness He was declared to be the Son of God with Power by His resurrection from the dead! (Romans 1:4). For men to acknowledge His resurrection is to acknowledge their accountability to God and the coming judgement. Already there was a stir within the synagogue. Hell below was alarmed!

This was preaching like these religious people had never heard before! The Lord Jesus did the same thing when He preached in the synagogue in His home town proclaiming Himself to be Israel’s long awaited Messiah. It brought uproar in the synagogue and almost caused a riot! Isn’t this just like the Holy Spirit when He goes to work convicting the world of sin, the need for righteousness and the judgement to come and more so when He goes to work in Churches that are religious, cold and formal or into Charismania gone mad!

Many church services are more like funeral services while others are virtually swinging from the rafters. However, when the Holy Spirit goes to work the first thing He does is bring about humility and repentance before He bestows joy. When a Holy Spirit revival hits a local assembly the saints will be on their faces before God before they are dancing on their feet. Today it is the other way around only these days they would rather dance than repent! Paul did not preach anything but the Bible because he already knew that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). This was the same message Stephen had preached and Peter had preached to the religious Jews.

(Vs.38-39)  “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.”

When the Holy Spirit goes to work He cuts through the religious veneer. The greatest need all men have is the need for righteousness, that standard of life God requires for entrance into His eternal Kingdom and “that holiness without which no one shall see God!” These religious leaders were heavily into religious rules and regulations and thought they were custodians of the Law and prided themselves on their good works and religious observances and ceremonies. What they needed to understand was that no man or woman could be justified before God by good works, personal morality or religious observances or by trying to keep the Commandments set forth in Torah. They were under bondage because all the Law could do was point to their sins and inability to make themselves right with God.

The Law was given to point them to Jesus that they might be justified by faith in Him and receive forgiveness for their sins through Him. This was what Paul was trying to get across to them. What they had failed to see was that they could be free from trying to work their way to heaven by embracing the Lord Jesus as their Passover Lamb and through Him receive the forgiveness for their sin. Paul was preaching faith and not works for salvation. Of course if we are saved we will have works along the line of the faith we profess. We are saved by faith but if there are no works as a result of that faith then our faith is a dead one and we are still in our sins.

The Lord Jesus Himself is the full embodiment of the law of God because He kept the Law perfectly and because it is completely fulfilled in Him when a person repents and receives Jesus into their life the Holy Spirit comes in and brings with Him that prefect and acceptable righteous nature of Jesus Himself. This is the righteousness that comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and upon which a repentant sinner is justified before God and made fit for heaven. As that believer walks moment by moment under the control of the Holy Spirit they will be empowered to keep God’s Laws and commandments.

As the Lord Jesus Himself said; “If you continue in My word then you are truly My disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free, and if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed!” This is what religious people need to understand. This is what those religious leaders there at Pisidian Antioch Paul was preaching to needed to understand.

(Vs.40-41)  “Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: ‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; For I am accomplishing a work in your days, A work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.’”

Paul now quoted the prophet Habakkuk who prophesied the Babylonian invasion of Judah because the religious leaders were rejecting the Word of God. He wrote; “Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4). These religious leaders confronting Paul were in the very same danger as they had been centuries before in the time of Habakkuk. The people in the time of Habakkuk did not have the revelation that these religious leaders had because the Messiah had not come. The religious leaders facing Paul  could have been saved if they had only opened their understanding to what Paul was saying. He was using the Bible to draw their attention to the Word of God made flesh in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were in danger of judgement because they had not believed in Jesus as their Messiah and more importantly as   their Passover Lamb who had been sacrificed for them.

These men were in danger of judgement because they were rejecting the only one who could redeem them from the power of sin. After the death, resurrection and Ascension of the Lord Jesus God had given the Jewish people another 40 years to repent. However Paul had already sensed that these in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch would not believe what he was saying to them. Judgement was coming and in 70AD Mosaic Judaism ceased to exist. The axe that had already been laid to the root finally toppled the tree!

(Vs.42-43)  “As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.”

Not all of the Jewish people attending the assembly at the synagogue rejected the message Paul preached. Many who had heard him followed him and Barnabas out of the meeting to talk further with them. They had never heard preaching like this before. When the Holy Spirit goes to work in a local church there will be those who want to hear more. Paul and Barnabas encouraged them to keep seeking God and to continue in their pursuit of the loving kindness and mercy of God until they knew the truth about Jesus as a reality in their own heart and life. Up until this time they had never been exposed to real Holy Spirit empowered preaching. Even among the religious there will be those who will respond to the Spirit of God. This is what happened at Pisidian Antioch that day. Many more would return the next day to hear more. Undoubtedly the blessed Holy Spirit was drawing men and women to Jesus.

(Vs.44-45)  “The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.”

Satan can be very religious and was in charge of worship in the Garden of Eden. Scripture tells us this. “…the workmanship of thy tabrets (tambourines) and of thy pipes (flutes) was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created” (Ezekiel 28:13 KJV). He gets more people into hell with religion than he does with all of the other sins of men combined such as adultery, murder, pride, envy and lust and so on. He can create beautiful mesmerising music to captivate the emotions, evoke the flesh and titillate the senses and through these produce spiritual deception but his master stroke is to get people into religion.

Religious people, who are not open to the work of the Holy Spirit, always get upset when their conclaves of power are threatened. They will always do “a knee-jerk” reaction against those who are preaching the gospel accompanied by the demonstration of God’s power. It has always been this way and will always be this way. Notice that nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God. It was just like in the days of John Wesley and George Whitfield when thousands would attend their open air meetings and they did not have microphones or loud speakers either!

Undoubtedly at Pisidon Antioch several thousand and possibly even more than that had gathered to hear what Paul had to say. It was a revival! Of course Satan will always have his servants. He will always resist the work of the Spirit. In most churches today in the western democracies he is not resisting much if at all because the people of God by enlarge do not have the power of the Holy Spirit really working in them and through them. In many assemblies today He is like a prisoner without power. He is there in many hearts but powerless to do what He needs to do because of unbelief and ignorance of how He works. Many do not want Him to work. They are scared that they will lose control of the churches activities. These religious leaders called “the Jews” (that is how the term is used to refer to the Jewish leaders) were filled with jealousy and began to contradict the teaching of the apostles and accusing them of blasphemy.

Paul and the other apostles had well and truly “upset their religious apple cart!” These men were filled with jealousy! Satan was being outdone and he did not like it at all! He could not shut Paul and the others down no matter how hard he tried. Satan could not chain the Word of God! Then Paul gave them “the coup de grace,” with the Sword of the Spirit.  They did not mince their word but spoke plainly

(Vs.46-48) “Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

To this day the Jewish people still have a veil over their hearts and a partial hardness of heart towards the Lord Jesus. Paul realised that they would not change. He had discharged his duty before God to preach to his fellow Jews but would now go to the Gentiles. His reaction once again was to these religious Jewish leaders who were seeking to repudiate what Paul was preaching. These religious leaders were self-condemned in that they showed themselves to be unworthy of eternal life that can only come through the Lord Jesus Christ. In rejecting Him they were rejecting the only one by whom they could be saved.

Paul again quoted scripture in reference to the Gentiles receiving the Word of God. Religious people are often the hardest people to get saved because they have a form of self-righteousness based on good works and religious pride. Religious Jews especially have this problem because of their attempts to keep the Law of Moses in their own strength. Of course the Bible teaches us that “by the works of law no one can be justified in God’s sight.” The only law God recognises that can put a man or woman right with God is the law of faith alone. As the author of  Hebrews writes: “And without faith (faithfulness) it is impossible to please God, for whoever would please God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”(Hebrews 11:6).

Real and genuine Biblical faith is not only believing but staying faithful to what one believes a faith that results in actions. Now we read that the Gentiles also listening to Paul responded to the gospel message. They were not necessarily religious. However, when they heard the good news about the Lord Jesus they responded joyfully. They realised that what Paul was preaching was not a religion but about relationship and that a relationship with the Living God through the Lord Jesus Christ was possible for them! Not only were they rejoicing but glorifying the Word of God. The Bible was no longer a distant and irrelevant book but the very Spirit-breathed Word of God and the same Word of God manifested in flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole point of Paul’s sermon was to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation for men and women regardless of whether they were Jew or Gentile.

Now we also read that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” There are those who see this text and try to say that God elects certain individuals to be saved while He passes over others and that those who are saved had no choice in the matter. They are zealous to promote the sovereignty of God. But God’s sovereignty does not override the will of man in the matter of salvation. While God foreknows all things He still gives people the choice. His election is always based on His foreknowledge of how people will respond to the gospel message. If God arbitrarily chooses some to be saved and others to be lost then it makes Him the author of sin.

The Holy Spirit in His convicting work gives the sinner just enough light to enable him or her to respond but He will not do the responding for them. If a man or a woman does not have a choice then God has contradicted Himself. Scripture is clear that god wants everyone to be saved even though He knows who will be and who won’t be saved in the end. The Bible says; “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And again we read; “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). And yet again we read; “…we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of believers” (1Timothy 4:10b).

So then God chooses those who He knows will choose Him. Election in the Bible has to do with nations not individuals as we see in the case of Jacob and Esau as babies wrestling for dominance in Rebekah’s womb. We read; about this in the book of Genesis “But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:22-23). Jacob and Esau represented nations. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ then you are part of the elect Body of Messiah. All of God’s promises are for you if you continue to stand by faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

God’s unmerited favour is given to sinners when they hear the preaching of the gospel and God gives them the capacity to believe but He will not do the believing for them. If this was the case and He chose to impart faith to some by not to others then He would nullify John 3:16 would He not? It is possible that a believer can step out of their salvation through a wilful rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture also teaches this. The proof that we belong to the elect people of God is whether we are being conformed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. To this we have been predestined.

As Paul writes: “For those God foreknew (knew how they would decide), He also predestined (chose, marked out) to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn (first in rank and honour) among many brothers (the elect body of Messiah corporately). And those He predestined He also called, those He called He also justified, those He justified He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).

So then, when we believe in Him that shed His blood for our sins, God incorporates us into His corporate Body, the faithful Church. We are the elect of God. We are called, justified and glorified and kept by Jesus Christ in that salvation in which we stand by faith. This is the scriptural truth regarding election.

(Vs 49-52)  “And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

As we have already seen there will always be satanic opposition to the preaching of the gospel by Spirit filled men and women. Those who are not filled with the Spirit or who have never been filled with the Spirit do not really worry Satan that much although he will still work against them because they belong to God’s family and not his. We read where the Word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region because the Word of God itself cannot be chained even though its preachers are.

Paul spent a lot of time in prison but he was able to say that the Word of God was not chained. He writes from prison; “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David, as proclaimed by my gospel, for which I suffer to the extent of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained! For this reason I endure all things for the sake of the elect, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8-10).

As we have seen and will continue to see it was primarily the religious Jewish leaders that caused people to reject the apostles. Indeed the Lord Jesus Himself said concerning these men; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You traverse land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). In the end the apostles were driven out of the district and went to Iconium. Were they dispirited or downcast at this time? Most certainly not for we read; “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Go to Part 25