Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
One of the best and worst times in life is the first day on the job. If you've had a job you know what I'm talking about. You saw the opening, felt like it might work for you, put your resume together, gathered references, wrote the best cover letter ever - then sent it off, hoping for a reply. Then came interviews, salary negotiations - and accepting the position.
You arrive on the first day - anxious, nervous, excited - not really knowing what to expect. I remember my first day at a Portland television station as a reporter. I had worked in Medford as the Public Service Director and managed to land a job as a reporter in a big city market - something that doesn't happen very often. I was hired as a consumer editor - probably because of my experience as president of a Consumer Credit Counseling board of directors.
I show up for work and really feel out of my element. I mean, this is the big city. The newsroom staff alone was bigger than the entire station I worked at in Medford. The Assignment Editor set me down as I was trying to organize my desk. He said - so, we want to get you out on the street - what kind of stories do you like to do? I was aghast because I thought he knew I was doing consumer stuff. I wasn't ready to cover big city crime or a big investigative story.
I began to wonder if I had made a colossal mistake - leaving my secure job in Medford, leaving my church and my friends - and moving hundreds of miles away to a strange place. Maybe God hadn't guided me after all. Well, after some explaining he was all right - but it left me feeling very insecure over my new assignment.
I think that in our journey through the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas must have felt somewhat the same way. Today we'll see them receive a job from God - an assignment to go out - but what they were to do wasn't clear - and, in fact, this first assignment didn't go very well from their perspective. Had they too made a huge mistake, not heard God correctly? Let's find out.
5 guys, bringing God's Word and God's exhortation to the church at Antioch.
(located in Syria near the coast of the Mediterranean.)
Who were they?
Barnabas - the same guy we find in Acts 4 who sold property and gave the money to the Lord's work. It was he who brought Saul to the brothers in Jerusalem when no one would have anything to do with him. When the church was born in Antioch, the elders sent Barnabas to help the Christians there.
Barnabas was generous, trustworthy, discerning, non-prejudiced, a leader, and, we find here, a teacher and prophet.
Simeon called Niger - most likely a black man. It's possible that this man was Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus' cross.
Lucius of Cyrene - also likely a man of dark complexion.
Saul - who else? Paul the Apostle
So we have Barnabas heading up this group of elders - two black men and a former enemy of the church. We can take lessons from Barnabas on openness to God working through anyone - regardless of skin color, background, or history.
It says they were "worshipping and fasting." This is the first time "worship" is used in the book of Acts in the New Testament context of a spiritual sacrifice to God apart from the priestly sacrificial system.
This is an important point - God's direction in our lives can come through worship as well. Why? When we are focused on God, giving our lives and hearts and love to Him - entering into His presence - we simply become more attuned to His Spirit and His voice.
If you want to know what God has for you in your life, try really pressing into Him in worship and see what He reveals. That can be here in a corporate setting, but also in your own private quiet times with God.
God says to set apart two of them for a work undetermined. Sometimes God just says - "you guys, over there - I've got something for you to do," but there are no specifics. It's our job to respond to God's call. He'll fill in the details later.
Vs 3 - 4
It was a days journey by sailboat from Antioch to the port town of Seleucia. From there, a direct southwest sail to the island of Cyprus, and it's chief city, Salamis.
John, also known as John Mark - joins them. He becomes important later on.
Vs 6 - 12
The guy in this story as two names - Bar Jesus is his Hebrew name and Elymas was his Greek name. (name means: magician). He was a Jew, but also a dabbler in the magic arts and the occult.
Sergius Paulus employed him. The Word tells us that this proconsul was intelligent. But although an unbeliever, he was open to religious instruction - thus hiring Elymas.
Last week we talked about small points in the Bible that serve as "reality checks" for the accuracy of the Scripture. This is one of them. In the northern part of Cyprus, archaeologists discovered a fragment of a Greek inscription that bears the name Quintus Sergius Paulus.
It's interesting that Elymas would try to keep Sergius from hearing about Jesus. After all - the man had a good thing going. If Sergius found out the truth out God he would realize that Elymas was a liar and fire him.
Sometimes opposition to what God's trying to do doesn't come from a spiritual or theological point of view - but simply profit and loss, dollars and cents, practical considerations.
The point is: our enemy - the devil - is very crafty. So we must be smart as well - not letting even the world's systems dissuade us from ministry.
Paul takes matters into God's hands, though. Being pretty bold to condemn the proconsul's employee in his presence. He tells Elymas to stuff a sock in it - and, by the way, you're going to be blind for a while.
This demonstration was enough to convince Sergius about who was telling the truth.
The church father Origen says as a result of this Elymas actually became a Christian. I think for us, when we come in contact with people who are opposing God at every turn, even using the Devil to do it - we need to 1) be bold in opposing the coming against the enemy in Jesus' name. And 2) be ready for one who is an enemy to become saved. Sometimes those that seem farthest away from God are actually the closest.
Vs 12 - Interesting too - the proconsul believes in amazement - not at what Paul does to Elymas, but at the "teaching" about the Lord.
12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (NIV)
God's Word is a powerful thing - unleashed, nothing can stop it.
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (NIV)
We should speak God's Word no matter whether we perform God's miracles. Ultimately, that is what sways people to faith - not physical manifestations of power, but spiritual revelation of the person of God.
They sail from Cyprus to a place called Pamphylia. This is in modern day Turkey.
They went to Perga, which along the south central coast of Turkey - today a city called Antalya is near there. Then from there they went to Pisidian Antioch - not the same city they came from. This one is in south central Turkey. Today a city named Konya is there.
John Mark here leaves the group and heads back to Jerusalem. This seems like just a simple historical note - almost not worthy of mention. Except that - this single act resulted in splitting up this dynamic duo.
A couple of chapters later (15) we find Barnabas wanting to take John-Mark, his nephew, along on a journey to check out how the work was coming in the cities they had gone to. Paul didn't want John-Mark to go because, in Paul's words, he had deserted them in Pamphylia.
The disagreement was so strident that Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. When we get to chapter 15 we'll talk about the significance of that - and what it means when we run into problems in ministry. But suffice it to say for now that what you do, what you say, and how you act does affect others and their ability to minister for the Lord. It may not seem very significant to you at the time, but can have tremendous effects later on in others lives.
Vs 15 - 41
Paul starts out his message to the Jews by relating Jewish history. We've seen this technique used before by Peter and Stephen. The Jews loved to hear a story about their history and would have prompted rapt attention.
For his telling, Paul takes on the subject of the choices and rulers. He talks about God choosing Israel, of putting judges over the people, but then the people asking for a king. Saul, of course, didn't work out very well, so God chose David. He uses David as a bridge to talk about His ultimate choice of a ruler and a king: Jesus Christ.
It's a great way to share the gospel - although we in America are a very independent minded people - who choke at the thought of having a king. Every one of us is ruled by something. The question is: do our choices of kings or gods help or hinder us.
For some their god is their stomach, their desires, their hobbies, their career, their intellect. They are all false prophets, false leaders - who can do nothing to save anyone in the end.
Jeremiah described them this way:
5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good." (NIV)
So Paul urges not to scoff at what he shares, but believe.
Vs 43 - 44
It seems at first that Paul's message is well received - and not doubt it was by some. That is now it will be with our lives and our preaching of the gospel. It seems as if God is preparing to do a great work in this city.
Sometimes our expectations of what God is about to do are contrary to what really happens. We need to just obey and do what God tells us to do. He'll take care of the plan.
What happened between one Sabbath and another. At first the Jews were accepting of the message, then they speak abusively against Barnabas and Saul. We find they key in this verse - jealously.
"When they saw the crowds" Instead of excitement about what God was doing - they saw the fact that so many were interested in this new message as a threat to their old way of life. Interest turned to antagonism. Openness turned to opposition.
We need to learn a lesson here - that jealously of a new work, perhaps a more popular work than we've been involved in - only works to divide the body of Christ and weaken God's work.
1- Don't be afraid of new things cropping up, even if it means abandoning the old ways
2- Don't be jealous just because someone else seems more successful - even in ministry. Our job is to be faithful to God's call in our lives, not to judge or compare ourselves to what God is doing through someone else.
Vs 46 - 52
This event is significant because it solidifies Paul's mission to bring the gospel almost exclusively to the Gentiles. We've moved quite a ways now from when Peter first realized the Gentiles were in God's plan of salvation, now to two of his apostles making the Gentiles nearly their sole mission field.
For us, we shouldn't be disturbed if God seems to make mid course adjustments to our ministries. We start in one direction, and through pain and trial we go another - yet God is still with us.
We need to look at ministry troubles as not failures, but direction pointers.
And look at the reaction here - the Gentiles were glad someone was finally paying attention to them. And those "appointed for eternal life" were saved.
o Has God set you apart for ministry, but you aren't sure what it is? Don't be discouraged, Paul and Barnabas didn't know exactly what God had in mind for them either - they simply obeyed and stepped out.
o When faced with opposition, recognize that it is the enemy at work - get him out of the way, but don't dwell on it - instead focus on communicating God's Word effectively.
o Tailor your message to your audience. I got my haircut recently and the conversation came around to the re-release of "The Exorcist." The hairdresser made the comment - "I'm not religious or anything, but I'm not sure if all that is real." It was a good opening to plant seeds about the real enemy - and the real God Jesus Christ who throws out demons at a word.
o Don't be discouraged if your original vision or direction seems to meet a dead end. Maybe its just a turn you haven't seen yet.