Date: 30 July 2023
Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Text: Acts 15:35 – 16:10
Blessed Sunday to everyone. Greetings also to those who are tuning in online. A warm welcome to our GB girls as well.
Have you heard of the term ‘Antioch of Asia’?
I understand it was coined by the late Billy Graham when he came to speak in Singapore in 1978. Today, unless you are familiar with the book of Acts, you would not understand this term ‘Antioch of Asia’.
But since we have gone through Acts 13 & 14, we know it was the Antioch church that commended Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey.
And so, to be the Antioch of Asia is to be a nation of churches that sees herself as a sending church. Prepared to pray for and to participate in, the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ beyond our shores.
If it is true that God intends for Singapore to be the Antioch of Asia in 1978, it’s something that was very unexpected right?
That I’m sure was a very bold pronouncement for the churches in Singapore then.
Singapore was only 13 years old. Our very existence was not even contemplated until the tensions surrounding the year 1965.
During the time of the 1st Century, Antioch was already the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire. Only Rome and Alexandra were bigger.
Singapore in contrast, is a small city state that has no natural resources and had just separated from Malaya.
A split caused by many factors, but I supposed simplistically, we could say, on both sides of the causeway, the leaders agreed to disagree.
In 2 weeks, we will celebrate our 58th birthday.
Today, we thank God that our currency is strong, and thus enables it to go a long way in the region and beyond.
Because our business language is English, coupled with a robust education system, we have access to lot’s of Christian education and are good at equipping.
Singapore churches today are in a great position to be the Antioch of Asia. And in one sense we owe that to the significant and difficult decision of the separation in 1965 that created the two countries of Singapore and Malaysia.
In the lead up to National Day, as we reflect on the improbable Singapore journey and Hermon’s place in this nation. I submit it is a good opportunity to reflect using the book of Acts to ask ourselves, what is God doing through us at this point in history.
I’ve titled today’s sermon - Facing a task unfinished. It’s familiar as it’s from the hymn we sang at our Anniversary Service 2 Sundays ago.
And I pray that as we start on our 4th lap here in Henderson, we will realize the privilege God has placed us in within this period of history. May we determine to be efficacious for Him.
Amidst differences in perspectives
Acts 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
We ended last week’s sermon at v35. But I think it is also a transition verse and so should be read together with this Sunday’s text.
And the reason why is because it emphasizes what is important in Paul and Barnabas’ ministry.
To them the equipping of the saints through the teaching and preaching of the word of the Lord is critical.
This is the way they were strengthening the churches. This is the way they were building the foundation of the inner life of the believers.
It is the teaching and the preaching of God’s Word that forms the spiritual backbone in the Christian.
And we see that both Paul and Barnabas were in one accord. This was their life’s ministry.
And this was now, how they wanted to serve the believers they had known, during their first missionary journey.
Thus in v36, Paul said to Barnabas, let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are.
They were unified in their desire to strengthen believers with the word of God.
Just to sidetrack on a biblical trivia, v36 says after some days. To us it might sound like anything below double digits. But I would say, it is at least 1 month.
The reason is that the distance between Antioch and Jerusalem was about 480 km. It took at least 15 days. That is assuming you walk 32 km per day. Something our army boys don’t even do.
Now, Paul in v40 chose Silas to be his missionary partner. But we know that Silas together with Judas had been sent back in peace to Jerusalem (v33).
So, Silas at the minimum would have been gone for 30 days. 15 days to walk home to Jerusalem to touch his bed and then another 15 days back to Antioch.
Though it is biblical trivia, I hope it gives us an appreciation of the extend Silas went, to be part of the missionary team.
May it be an encouragement for us today when we think of reaching out to the lost.
But this unity is shattered in v37-39. The purpose of the 2nd missionary journey was no issue, but the mission team partners were.
They were facing a task unfinished amidst differences in perspectives.
Barnabas continues to live up to his description as the ‘son of encouragement’. He vouches for Paul when the Jerusalem leaders didn’t trust him (9:27) and now he is vouching for John Mark when Paul does not trust him.
But we see that for Paul, reliability was highly valued. And so he did not think John Mark could be helpful since he had withdrawn from them at Pamphylia on their 1st missionary journey.
A sharp disagreement happened and they separated.
Luke, here is careful to sound neutral. He just records what happened. We cannot say who is right or who is wrong.
One commentator says this “It is a classic example of the perpetual problem of whether to place the interest of the individual or of the work as a whole first.”
Paul and Barnabas are coming from 2 difference perspectives.
Remember they are both godly men, filled with the Holy Spirt, both agreed with the ministry objective, but they have different perspectives towards the team members.
Church, these things still happen today, and we know it can result in sharp disagreements and separation.
I submit when it happens with us, we must examine that it is not due to petty opinions, selfish pride or a stubborn personality.
I believe Paul and Barnabas had genuine differences in perspectives that were shaped by the Holy Spirit.
So, we thank God that He is sovereign over it all. For in this separation, two mission teams were formed. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus while Paul and Silas went to Syria.
Though there was a sharp disagreement, we know that they were gracious to one another.
In Paul’s later letters, we see that both Mark and Barnabas subsequently ministered together with Paul.
2 Tim 4:11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
1 Cor 9:6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
Notice with me that the church in Antioch was also spiritually discerning. Here was a very public disagreement between 2 of your key church leaders. Did the church split?
No, it did not! Instead v40 says, the mission teams were commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
It’s very similar language to how the church sent off Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.
And I’m sure they were able to sense God’s hand in this separation because their DNA was to seek the will of the Lord through fasting and prayer.
If Hermon wants to be part of the ‘Antioch of Asia’, we need to model after the spiritual maturity of the Antioch church of the 1st century.
We need to be able to see God’s hand moving through our different perspectives.
Avoiding unnecessary obstacles
Acts 16:1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
When we have experienced terrible service or food at a particular restaurant, what do we normally do? Typically, we would not return right?
Some of us might go further and post about it, warning others so that they are spared the same experience.
If we do that for restaurants, what about even more dangerous experiences such accidents due to flooding, earthquakes, being mugged, having your accommodation burgled or being trapped in a riot.
All the more, right, if that place holds a painful memory, we would not go back there.
Yet, we see that is what Paul did. He went back to Lystra in chapter 16. He went back there to strengthen the believers in Lystra. A town that stoned him and left him for dead (14:19).
What did it take for the mission team to be at Lystra? Silas had to be willing to walk back over 15 days to join Paul at Antioch. For Paul, he was willing to risk being stoned again to strengthen the believers.
If you were Paul, would it even cross your mind to consider – ‘let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord?’
What does it take for us today to strengthen our siblings-in-Christ?
An MRT ride of 1 hour to CG? Taking annual leave to go and visit Preacher Somsart in Thailand via a plane.
And already we think it’s quite sacrificial. I pray the Lord grant us biblical perspectives.
In this visit to Lystra, Paul discovers a disciple named Timothy. He is a believer, the son of a Jewish woman and a Greek father. Based on the tense in the original - ‘was a Greek’, it appears that his father has passed away.
Since we just went through Acts 15 about the Jerusalem Council and as we look at v3-4 of Acts 16, we might view a tension here.
Paul and Silas were delivering the decision of the Jerusalem council which is that circumcision is not a requirement for salvation.
Yet in v3, Paul took Timothy a grown man and circumcised him.
Consider with me - Timothy was a believer that Paul had identified to be part of his mission team.
Now Paul we know, even though he was God’s apostle to the Gentiles, he always had the Jews in mind.
Scripture records that in every city, he would always first go into a synagogue to preach to the Jews.
The Jerusalem Council’s decision was that Gentiles did not need to be Jews.
It did not however say that Jews who believed in Jesus could not continue to observe Jewish customs.
It did however imply for the Jews that salvation is by faith in Christ alone. And that circumcision would now just be a tradition.
Because Paul was facing a task unfinished with witnessing to the Jews, there was a need for him to remove any unnecessary obstacle in Timothy being credible with the Jews.
See in the eyes of the Jews, Timothy was a Jew because of his mother. And so, to prevent any prejudices, Paul had Timothy circumcised.
Timothy did what was needed to ensure no unnecessary obstacle would stand in the way of his Gospel witness to the Jews.
One pastor I know gave a helpful application for us today. He shared that the test and training of a potential church missionary is how far would he or she go to be suitable to reach a certain people group.
He said, in Singapore, get this aspiring missionary to be part of the Boys’ Brigade or Girls’ Brigade ministry. Expose them to training as an officer, go through the camps, the parades, teach the badge work.
In so doing, it will help them to appreciate the effort - would I do whatever it takes to reach and love these youths?
As self-serving people, we often times want to do things based on our preference. But if we want to reach others for Christ, we need to be willing to walk in their shoes.
Thus, learning their culture and their language is such an important part of reaching out to them.
Theological discernment about cultural sensitives are important. And in Singapore, we are actually in an advantageous position.
Because we have so many foreigners here, we are not a homogeneous society. Because we work and play amongst many races, we get to appreciate the diversity.
V5 tells us that the church did not view any tension between Timothy’s circumcision and that of the Jerusalem Council’s verdict.
They understood why Timothy had to be circumcised. Paul was doing it to remove any unnecessary obstacles. It had nothing to do with salvation.
And so, knowing the Jerusalem Council’s judgement enabled growth. Growth internally for they were strengthened in the faith and growth externally, the Lord added to their numbers.
The growing spiritual maturity of the congregation at Lystra can also be seen in their endorsement of Timothy. As a church they were able to discern that Timothy could be Paul’s partner.
V2 tells us the church spoke well of him.
Today, I feel this is a good principle for us to follow.
Be it for mission or ministry staff, it should not just be the individual feeling the call, or having someone prominent identifying.
Importantly, it must also be coupled with the endorsement of the faith community.
Regarding circumcision, remember last week I mentioned about Paul and Peter’s conflict on circumcision and meal fellowship from Galatians 2?
Gal 2:3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
In that same chapter but in v3, we see that Paul did not circumcise Titus, another of his mission partners. And the reason given was because Titus was a Greek.
Church, if Hermon wants to be part of the ‘Antioch of Asia’, we need to model after the spiritual maturity of the Antioch church of the 1st century.
We need spiritual discernment to do what it takes to remove in ourselves, the unnecessary obstacles to the reception of the Gospel.
Abiding in the Spirit’s leading
Acts 16:6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
In our journey to Henderson, we had 2 potential paths closed. The first one was our desire to stay in CCKBC under the MOU. God in His wisdom brought our partnership with our sister church to a close.
The other one was our attempt at bidding for the HDB land at CCK Ave 1. God also closed that door since we were unable to bid sufficiently high enough.
As you all are aware, we search in many places from the Centre to the West of Singapore before we arrived at Henderson.
I hope through our journey of faith to Henderson, we can appreciate a bit more v6 and 7.
In these verses, we see the Holy Spirit’s leading in a different way.
Instead of making the path smooth, the Spirit was preventing them from sharing the Gospel. In these verses we see that twice, they were prevented from doing what they felt God had called them to do.
Could this be a visible application of -
Prov 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
As we face the task unfinished, these verses remind us, we need to abide in the Spirit’s leading. We need to know how to walk in step with God.
The route from Lystra to Troas is a long one. It is estimated that from Lystra to Troas would take over 600 km of walking.
Let say we do an army route march of 24 km per day, that would take Paul, Silas and Timothy around 25 days.
All the time they were wanting to go to the right to preach the Gospel and yet the Spirit kept preventing them from doing so.
Would you be frustrated if you were them? Would you be questioning God’s wisdom if you were them? Would you be impatient with God if you were them?
Not sure about you, but I know I would.
During our eventful journey to Henderson, (as I look at the emails, I see that this journey started in Aug 2009), one song that ministered to me especially during the recent 5 years, was Rejoice in the Lord.
I kept singing in my head the first stanza –
Rejoice in the Lord
God never moves without purpose or plan
When trying His servant and molding a man
Give thanks to the Lord though your testing seems long
In darkness He giveth a song
I pray that now since we are settled in Henderson, I’ve learnt the lesson God had for me through our journey. That God can be trusted for He always moves intentionally and lovingly.
After walking 600 km to Troas, Paul finally received the reason why he had been prevented to preach the word in Asia.
Through a vision, Paul received the plead for help from a man of Macedonia. God was moving the Gospel onto continental Europe.
Paul and his team, shows us the balance between man’s responsibility and that of God’s sovereignty.
They sought to obey the Great Commission. They had to take the initiative to plan for the cities they wanted to visit, yet at the same time, they were sensitive to how God was directing.
In v6 & 7, it does not say how the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from going into Asia, but they were so sensitive to God’s leading that it felt as if there was a physical hand of God at work.
Luke says they were ‘forbidden by the Holy Spirit’ and ‘the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them’.
How do we sense God’s leading today? The way God led Paul through the vision, I submit is not normative today. Today, we have God’s full revelation in Scripture.
We acknowledge that Scripture is sufficient to make us mature in Christ.
What I think we have in common with Paul is prayer. Pray makes us dependent on God and causes us to be sensitive to His prompting.
And as we pray, may I offer the following for our consideration, 4 Ws (this is no original):
His Word – we obey what He has already revealed to us plainly (Ps 119:105)
His Workers – we ponder upon the counsel of godly friends (Prov 19:20)
His Workmanship – we discern what He has gifted us in our talents and passion. (Eph 2:10)
His Worship – we determine to choose what would honour Him and magnify His name. (1 Cor 10:31)
Church, if Hermon wants to be part of the ‘Antioch of Asia’, we need to model after the spiritual maturity of Paul and his team.
They understood that as they executed their responsibilities, it was fully subjected to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They decided that their desires will be aligned to God’s.
Church, till Jesus comes again, we will be facing a task that is unfinished. What we need to seek is God’s leading for Hermon in this point of history.
God has placed us in Singapore and specifically here in Henderson. God has given us the passion and talents of every Hermonite.
Ps Zhiwen of Zion Bishan posted on his Facebook on 26 July the current reality – in 1991, Singapore was the number 1 missionary-sending nation in the world. By 2020, the number has halved to 516.
The call is to raise up the next wave of missionaries to go into the harvest field.
To be missional for God, takes a team. Today’s text highlights that.
Paul and Silas, Barnabas and John Mark, they were a team, not lone missionaries.
After Lystra, it was Paul, Silas, Timothy.
After Troas, it was Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke. Though Paul saw the vision, it was the 4 of them that discerned the call.
Besides the missionaries, there was the sending church. The Antioch church commended them to the grace of God. The church in Lystra must have also supported them on their forward journey to Troas.
Church, if Hermon wants to be part of the ‘Antioch of Asia’, the whole church needs to be mobilized. We each have a part to play.