Date: 25 Jun 2023
Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Text: Acts 13:1-52
Blessed Sunday to all. Welcome back all who have been travelling over the June holidays. May we all be refreshed as we enter into the 2nd half of 2023.
When we watch war movies or documentaries, one common feature are the maps of how the invading army is moving across the territory. It has a visual impact on the viewer. It shows us the advancement of the victor and the retreat of the opposition.
If we are rooting for the victor, we are gladden when more and more territory is indicated in their colour. But if we are rooting for the opposition, then the sense of gloom sets in when less and less of our territories are in our colour.
Sometimes in war movies or documentaries, in the midst of the macro picture of conquest, a micro picture featuring the lives of individuals are portrayed. It gives us a sense of relatability. It helps us see the reality on the ground and not from 10,000 feet.
It’s not just facts and figures, but individual people and their lives.
And I think this is a picture that Luke is also painting for us here in Chapter 13. There is this big picture of how the Gospel is penetrating into Asia Minor, while at the same time, there is micro focus on Sergius Paulus and Paul’s sermon.
You may wonder, why have I used a war example in illustrating the missionary expansion in Acts 13.
Well because Paul elsewhere tells us that Gospel mission is essentially spiritual warfare.
Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
This world is in bondage of the evil one and when the Gospel advances, it does so against Satan and his army.
But we do not march into the battle with fear, for God has already won that at the Cross of Calvary. Calvary is like D-Day at Normandy in WW2. It is the beginning of the end.
But since the final victory will only happen when Christ Jesus comes again, we are still in the midst of the battle for the souls of men and women.
And so we sing:
Lead on, O King eternal, till sin's fierce war shall cease, And holiness shall whisper, the sweet amen of peace. For not with swords' loud clashing, or roll of stirring drums With deeds of love and mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes.
Chapters 13 and 14 contain the records of Paul’s first missionary journey with Barnabas and John Mark. And we will cover this over 2 sermons. Chapter 13 today and chapter 14 at our Anniversary Service on 16 July.
I’ve entitled today’ sermon - By the power of the Holy Spirit we M.A.P. M.A.P. is an acronym for the 3 points in the sermon. It stands for Mission, Announcement and Persecution.
Notice with me that Chapter 13 starts and ends with the Holy Spirit. He is the initiator, the sender, the enabler, the authenticator and the sustainer of our Gospel Mission, Gospel Announcement and the Gospel Persecution.
Thus the sermon title begins with ‘By the power of the Holy Spirit…’
Gospel Missions – we release our best
Let’s look at the first 12 verses of Chapter 13 and I’ve grouped it under the heading - By the power of the Holy Spirit : Gospel Missions – we release our best.
V1 of Chapter 13 gives us a wonderful picture of the diversity found in the church in Antioch. The leaders were those who focused on the ministry of the Word. They were prophets and teachers.
Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus. Simeon we know is a dark skinned or black man of African origin as he is called Niger. Lucius was from Cyrene which is in North Africa.
Manaen is a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, likely belonging to a noble Jewish family. Now Herod was involved in the beheading of John the Baptist and involved in the trial of Jesus. Yet we thank God, Manaen’s upbringing did not turn him away from the faith.
Finally, there is Saul, a diaspora Jew from Tarsus. The former Pharisee persecutor of the Christians who has now becomes the preacher of Christ.
What diverse backgrounds the leaders came from. And yet their unity is formed based solely on their shared faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. What an example for us to follow even 20 centuries later.
Now we observe that a key element of their corporate life was in the worship of God. And specifically in today’s text, the worship elements mentioned are that of fasting and prayer.
In their worship of God, through fasting and prayer, they were in a humble and receptive attitude. They were displaying total dependence upon the Lord.
Fasting enables us to take away distractions and focus on what is important. Prayer makes us sensitive to God’s prompting and prepares us to align ourselves to God’s will.
In such an environment, not only were they able to discern the Holy Spirit’s prompting, they were also able to be obedient towards it.
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
These are your key leaders in the young church. They are those greatly needed for the church to be built up and strengthen in the faith.
Barnabas was a respected older leader from Jerusalem. Paul was an experienced and learned teacher.
It’s like God telling Hermon, set apart for me Pastor Luwin for the work of missions. I think many of us will pretend not to hear the Holy Spirit’s prompting. He is so needed in Hermon.
But this sacrificial spirit is very normal for this church in Antioch. In Chapter 11 we have already seen their sacrificial generosity when they collected financial aid for the church in Jerusalem due to the famine.
Here they sacrificially gave their best for God’s mission field.
From the macro picture, Luke zooms in to the micro.
See, God had the intention in eternity past to reach out to this Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus.
This Gentile ruler has been appointed already to salvation and God has decided that it will best be through His servants Barnabas and Paul.
Sergius Paulus was a man of intelligence and so it must have been the insightful teaching of Barnabas and Paul in the synagogues in Cyprus that caught his attention.
Thus, he summoned them to hear the word of God as v7 records.
Paul filled with the Holy Spirt was efficacious for God in Paphos. Paul was at the right time and the right place. Because he was able, under the power of the Spirit to see through the schemes of Bar-Jesus the Jewish false prophet.
In contrast to Bar-Jesus who thought he was a great magician, Paul was able to perform a miracle against Bar-Jesus.
Because Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, he was able to do a miracle of judgement upon Elymas. He became blind for a time.
God in His providence enabled Barnabas and Paul to be His apt instruments for the salvation of Sergius Paulus.
The judgement miracle convinced Sergius Paulus of Paul’s credentials as an Apostle of Christ Jesus.
And teachings by Barnabas and Paul convicted his soul, enabling him to graciously accept the gift of salvation.
Church, let’s appreciate the extend of the details to which God will go to save someone.
God the Holy Spirit continues to speak today with regards to missions. The question is whether we, here in Hermon are listening.
Many Hermonites have the opportunities to go for overseas postings, for internships and for student exchanges. Our passport is the 2nd strongest in the world.
May I offer for our consideration - when we choose these postings, can we bring them before God, asking Him, please send me out as your ambassador?
Since God has shown He can plan such that Barnabas and Paul became instrumental in God’s salvation plan for Sergius Paulus, I’m sure God too has a plan for us in our overseas endeavours as well.
In our interactions, we might not be privileged to witness the final conversion step of the person - where the person prays to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
But God might be using us to bring that person one more step closer to Him.
Church, could we as a community of faith pray for all who go overseas that they will see themselves as Christ ambassadors.
As we remember them in prayer for their safety, let us also remember to pray that they be a channel of God’s grace.
And if the Lord were to prompt us in Hermon, to give of our best for His mission field (here referring to full-time mission work), let us be willing to sacrificially obey.
Now for those of us who don’t go overseas, don’t say heng-ah, not my problem. God has brought the world to our door-step. Just under 30% in Singapore are foreigners.
I’m sure we all have at least 1 non-Singaporean that we have contact with daily.
God has given them to you for the expressed purposed that you be His channel of grace.
Each and everyone of us is Hermon’s best. You are our best in that particular sphere of influence that God has placed you in. Only you are in that hiking group. Only you are in that volunteer team. Only you are in that study cluster.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, let’s be missional wherever we are.
Gospel Announcement – we point to JesusChrist
What is the Gospel according to Paul? Till now, we do not have any insights yet.
We know Paul has been preaching and teaching in Tarsus, in Jerusalem, in Antioch in Syria and now here in Antioch of Pisidia.
But what exactly has Paul said about the Gospel? No details until now.
Regarding Antioch, it’s a bit confusing right, because both places are called Antioch. Like we have Queenstown in Singapore and also Queenstown in New Zealand.
For these 2 Antiochs, they are named the same because they were founded by the same person Lucius I. And he named both towns after his father Antiochus.
So here, between v16 to 47, Luke records Paul’s sermon on what the Gospel is.
Tradition has it that one of the wealthiest business families in Antioch of Pisidia was the family of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus. Maybe Sergius had pleaded with Paul, go over and bring the Gospel to my extended family.
And if so, Sergius must have given Paul and his team letters of introduction to aid in his travel and stay in the city.
I suspect, for many of us who are the first person in our family to become a Christian, we might appreciate Sergius Paulus’ situation. Once we have received salvation, our hearts do long for our immediate loved ones to also experience God’s grace.
Paul’s sermon is set in the synagogue. He is amongst Jews – he addresses them as ‘Men of Israel’ and also Gentiles who have converted to Judaism – he addresses them as ‘you who fear God’.
Paul’s sermon is in 3 main parts.
V16 to 25 – history of Israel from the Exodus to John the Baptist.
V26 to 37 – God has sent salvation in Jesus who is the Christ, whom Jews crucified and God raised from the dead.
V38 to 41 – In Jesus there is forgiveness of sins and justification. This is offered to everyone. But take heed to the warning if you reject it.
Let’s take a look at each section briefly and I would like to highlight 1 implication for our consideration. We would notice that Paul was talking in half sentences. Making references which only those who knew their Scripture would understand.
V16 to 25
God is in control of Israel’s history – Luke emphasizes in today’s text - God chose our fathers and made the people great. God led them out of Egypt. God put up with them in the wilderness. God destroyed 7 nations to give them Caanan. God gave it to them as an inheritance.
God then gave them judges like Samuel the prophet. God gave them Saul when they ask for a king and then removed him and gave them David.
And the climax is that now, God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus whom He has promised.
To the first audience, Paul is saying, understand your history. God is the one who has initiated everything and now God has initiated His final piece of His promise, He has sent Jesus.
Yes, God has chosen Israel by choosing Abraham, but note this. John the Baptist, whom the first audience all recognize as a prophet of God.
John had preached to all that there is a need for the baptism of repentance for the people of Israel.
The Jews may be the chosen people of God but they still needed to repent and accept Jesus as Messiah.
With hindsight, Paul says, you can see God working out His plan in history. Now I’m giving you 20/20 vision so that you can see perfectly God’s plan in Jesus.
I’m sure for all of us, if we look back at how God has drawn us to Himself, we will see that God has been in control of everything. He has been moving the pieces in our lives. May we be grateful for His divine intervention.
Jesus fulfils Scripture. Gospel is salvation (v26) and good news (32).
To the Jews, the Scripture is revered. The written word of God, which to us we accept as the Old Testament is sacred. Paul quotes Psalm 2 in v33. In v34, he quotes from Isaiah 55. And in v35, Paul cites Psalm 16.
Men of Israel and those who fear God, you accept Scripture as authoritative, that is good and right. Now let me show you that it all points to Jesus.
In Ps 2, there is mentioned of the Son, the Lord’s Anointed. Who is He, well He is Jesus.
Jesus is the one promised in Isaiah 55 whom God made an everlasting covenant with David. And since Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant, Paul indirectly says, that Suffering Servant of Isaiah is none other than Jesus.
By quoting Ps 16, which was written by King David. King David was writing about not his body not seeing corruption in the Psalm.
Paul helped the first audience to see that David was not writing about himself but about someone who will come from his line.
How can David say God will not let David experience corruption, for David did die and he was buried and they all know his body experienced corruption.
Instead because God raised Jesus from the dead and v31 says the resurrected Jesus appeared to many from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus did not see corruption.
So, David wrote in Psalm 16 not of himself but of Jesus.
If you deem Scripture as authoritative, then I’ve proven from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah.
And the good news, is that Jesus brings salvation.
The way Paul presents the Gospel I submit, should continue today. We don’t share Jesus based on what we have experienced and not on how He makes us feel.
No, we share the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus based on Scripture. Scripture to us is authoritative also. It is God’s Word to us.
So let us share the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus with others, through reading the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
V38 to 41
In Jesus there is forgiveness of sin, so do not reject this offer
Now because Jesus did not see corruption, it means He has conquered death. Jesus is alive and He lives forever.
Death is the consequence of sin. So eternal life means sin has no more hold on man.
So, in Christ Jesus who is alive, death is no more, thus sin is no more. There is therefore forgiveness of sin when we put our faith in Jesus.
The law of Moses with all its sacrifices reminds us of the sin we have. The forgiveness is short-lived for the sacrifices have to be constantly repeated.
Jesus is our Passover Lamb and He is the once for all sacrifice. By His blood now covering us, the angel of death passes over us permanently.
Paul quotes in v41 from Habakkuk. There in Habakkuk the prophet warned the Jewish people of his time, that God will be performing a work which they will find hard to believe.
It is about God raising the Babylonians to invade Israel as an instrument of God’s judgement on Israel for their disobedience.
Paul was warning his audience, do not be like the people of Habakkuk’s time.
Today, that warning goes out to all of us as well. Now is the appointed time to receive God’s gift of grace in Christ Jesus. For what awaits those who reject Jesus will be God’s judgement and it will not be pleasant indeed.
Gospel Persecution – it comes with the territory but we can live joyfully
By the power of the Holy Spirit we M.A.P. We have Gospel Mission, we have Gospel Announcement and finally we have Gospel Persecution.
When Christians share the Gospel, there will always be 2 forms of responses.
Positively like in v42,43 & v48 –
Acts 13:42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 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…. 48 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.
Negatively we see it in Elymas and in the Jews and the Gentiles:
Acts 13:8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith…. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him…. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.
Because salvation is of the Holy Spirit, when people believe, we cannot claim any credit. When people reject, we too need not feel discouraged.
Let us thus rejoice in the Lord when people come to know the saving grace of God.
Yet, let’s also always be prepared that there will be vigorous opposition to the Gospel and it may come with persecution.
Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will tell us elsewhere -
2 Tim 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Christianity is not a live of ease. It is a life of blessedness.
What do I mean by that? Hear the encouragement from Jesus our Lord and Saviour:
Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is the reason the disciples were filled with joy. The Holy Spirit enabled them to understand the truth of Mathew 5.
Our reward is in heaven. We have been given eternal life and will be with Jesus. There, because of Christ, we will have a right relationship with God and will experience the fullness of His favour.
Ps John Piper says “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as He causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
Joy then is regardless of circumstances, it is regardless of responses we receive, it is regardless of our earthly past and future.
It is based on Jesus and what He has accomplished at Calvary.
Heb 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The joy of Jesus was to go to the cross for you and I. Thus, the writer of Hebrews says, if you want to know this joy, then look to Jesus who is the founder and the perfecter of our faith.
How can we live the blessed life that is joyous all the time? I submit the answer is when we remind ourselves regularly of the Gospel. That God in eternity past, has chosen us and so sought us out like how He did with Sergius Paulus.
God spared not His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, Jesus paid the price of sin on our behalf. Therefore, in Jesus, we have received the forgiveness of sin and the gift of life eternal.
Church, this is the blessed life. May the Holy Spirit convince us that this is good news that we must share.