For an introduction to this series, click here.
June 13, 2007
This chapter marks a transition in the book of Acts. For the first 12 chapters, the star has been Peter, with the other Apostles and other leaders mentioned from time to time. From this point until the end of the book almost all the focus is on Paul.
We were told in Chapter 11 that Barnabas was at Antioch and went to Tarsus to get Saul. Antioch was quickly becoming the center of the Gentile church. The church there was experiencing tremendous growth. But right in the middle of that great work, the Holy Spirit came in the midst of their prayer meeting and told them to separate Paul and Barnabas for a special work. Now of course the Holy Spirit does not come to us today in an audible voice- this is something not even the radical Pentecosts claim. There is no getting around the fact that the Apostolic Age was a special time in the history of the church. Yes, God always has the power to do miraculous things, but the problem is He rarely chooses to use that power. God was going to make sure the church got started on the right foot, and so He helped the Apostles not only by supervision, but also by direct special revelations.
And so off Paul and Barnabas went. They first went to Cyprus, which is where Barnabas was from. They met a magician named BarJesus or Elymas, who opposed their work. Finally Paul struck him blind for a season.
The next section is mostly a sermon by Paul in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia, which is in what is now southern Turkey. Luke records Paul's sermon, which is no doubt typical of the sermon that he preached in many synagogues. He started with the history of Israel in Egypt through David and the prophets and leads from there to explain how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures.
I will let you read Luke's account of the results: "And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, 'It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."' And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." (13:43-48, ESV)
This is the pattern Paul followed throughout the rest of his ministry: he preached first in the Jewish synagogue, and then when he ran into opposition from the synagogue he began preaching to the Gentiles. The Jews were the people who had and knew the Word of God. They would be the ones most open to hear about God sending a Messiah Redeemer into the world. The general culture of Roman times believed in a literal pantheon of gods who lived in a separate world from our own. They would not understand or accept monotheistic religion the way a Jewish person would.
In this way Paul adapted to the cultural realities of his time. And we should do the same. It definitely would not involve preaching Jesus in synagogues today. Our time is different. I'm not saying I have all the answers, but we are still commissioned to proclaim the Good News in a way that many will hear and believe. Don't be afraid to proclaim it, but also don't be afraid to change how you proclaim it if that becomes necessary.