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The Return to Antioch in Syria August 31, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 14:21-28.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel message in Derbe. They then returned to Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch – where they encouraged the new believers in those cities and appointed elders to oversee their respective local congregations. Later, they sailed back to Antioch in Syria; they described God’s work through them to that local congregation.

Thoughts: It seems that missionaries through the ages have adhered to the model that Paul and Barnabas established in this passage. Along with preaching the Gospel message, Paul and Barnabas made a concerted effort to disciple new believers and help them mature; they also appointed local leaders who could build on their efforts in their absence. They also made a report to their “home church” where they described God’s work through them after their commission to the Gentiles had been publicly confirmed. I assume that Paul and Barnabas thanked the believers in Antioch for their support.

In Lystra and Derbe August 24, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 14:8-20.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel message in Lystra. Paul then miraculously healed a man who had been crippled since birth. This action, though, caused their audience to view Barnabas and Paul as the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, respectively. They attempted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas – who strove to dissuade them, stating that they were only representatives of the one true God who created all things. Later, some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and lead them in stoning Paul. He miraculously survived this assault, though; on the following day, he and Barnabas departed from Lystra.

Thoughts: In verses 11-13, we see that the people of Lystra viewed Paul and Barnabas as Greek gods after Paul performed a miracle. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 15:

People in Lystra believed there was more than one god. Paul and Barnabas showed, on the contrary, that there is only one Creator of the world. After they had removed the false idea of a multiplicity of gods, their way was open to teach the nature of the God who was the Creator of heaven and earth.

This passage caused me to ponder the fact that other religions feature creation myths; for example, consider the stories of Izanagi and Izanami in Shinto mythology, Marduk in Babylonian mythology and Brahma in Hindu mythology. Diverse worldviews actually converge on the point that a deity created the heavens and the earth. Thus, we should remember that the Christian worldview is unique in its focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ – especially His resurrection. As believers, we should strive to bolster our faith in that dramatic event and communicate our certainty regarding it to nonbelievers who may not grasp the uniqueness of Christianity in this pluralistic age.

In verses 14-18, we see that Paul and Barnabas emphatically rejected the attempts of their audience to offer sacrifices to them. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 14:

The apostles’ tearing their clothes and rushing out into the crowd showed how zealous they were for the glory of God. Not content with words, they disrupted the preparations for sacrifice as much as they could. Sometimes even hypocrites decline excessive honor, but all that happens is that their pretense of modesty makes simple people give it to them.

Admittedly, I struggle with feelings of pride when other believers praise me or thank me for a particular act of service. While I generally attempt to deflect their words, I know that pride courses through my veins in those moments. Thus, I admire Paul and Barnabas, who were so full of the Holy Spirit that they could not tolerate any praise that was not directed at God Himself. I pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in me so that I can maintain my humility in those moments. On a related note, I should dwell on the fact that I can do nothing without God’s assistance.

In Iconium August 20, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 14:1-7.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and Barnabas traveled from Pisidan Antioch to Iconium. They then preached the Gospel message in the Jewish synagogue and performed many miracles to support it. They reaped a large harvest, as many Jews and Gentiles believed it. Yet others refused to accept it and planned to kill them. Paul and Barnabas learned of this plot and fled from Iconium; they continued to preach the Gospel message throughout Lycaonia.

Thoughts: I am eager to meet the Jewish and Gentile believers from Iconium in the next life and learn more about them. How did they come to believe in the God of the Old Testament? Had they heard of Paul and Barnabas before they arrived in Iconium? What were their thoughts and emotions as they heard the Gospel message for the first time? How did the Jewish believers overcome the inherent Jewish bias against the Gospel message? How did they respond to the miracles that Paul and Barnabas performed? How did they maintain their faith in Christ after Paul and Barnabas were forced to flee their city?

In Pisidian Antioch August 17, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 13:13-52.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and Barnabas traveled from Paphos to Pisidian Antioch via Perga in Pamphylia. On the next Sabbath, they were invited to speak in the Jewish synagogue. Paul then delivered a cogent speech where he made the following points:

He also asserted that free forgiveness of sins was offered to them through Jesus of Nazareth. He then adapted Habakkuk 1:5 to warn the Jews regarding their potential rejection of his overall argument. On the following Sabbath, though, the Jews explicitly acted accordingly. Their actions spurred Paul and Barnabas to assert that they would now make the same overall argument to the Gentiles – as commanded by God in Isaiah 49:6. The Jews would later drive them out of that region – yet their efforts were not in vain; many Gentiles in that region believed the Gospel message.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that Paul and his companions entered a Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. It seems that at this point in his apostolic career, his evangelistic strategy entailed preaching the Gospel message in synagogues. This approach had several advantages, including:

  • his audience would already accept the veracity of the Old Testament
  • his audience would be anticipating the arrival of the Messiah – as that dramatic event was predicted by the Old Testament.

Yet this approach had several drawbacks, including:

  • some Jews probably wondered if Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament was correct – especially since he often quoted it in his speeches
  • some Jews probably wondered if Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah – especially since there were doubts as to whether He had risen from the dead.

I am curious as to whether the Holy Spirit commanded Paul to adopt this evangelistic strategy – or if he chose this approach given his background. Did his companions recommend that he adopt an alternate strategy?

Paul’s evangelistic strategy also intrigued me for a different reason: I am a Gentile with several unsaved family members. My thought is that sharing the Gospel message with Gentiles has several challenges, including:

  • they do not already accept the veracity of the Old Testament; they may even question the existence of God
  • they may question their need for a Savior – especially if they do not view themselves as sinful creatures.

Now I should note that sharing the Gospel message with Gentiles does have some potential advantages, including:

  • they have fewer preconceived notions regarding the Old Testament, and so they may be more open to the Christian interpretation of that text
  • they may be more open to the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth did rise from the dead.

I certainly need strength from the Lord in order to be faithful in my calling and display the truth of the Gospel message to my unsaved family members. I hope that God will use me for His glory in that regard.

I hope to meet the Gentile believers in Pisidian Antioch in the next life and learn more about them. Had any of them converted to Judaism before the events of this passage, and if so, how did they come to believe in the God of the Old Testament? What were their thoughts and emotions as Paul shared the Gospel message with them and furnished them with the correct interpretation of the Old Testament? Were they persecuted by the Jews after Paul and Barnabas were expelled from their region? How did they maintain their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as their Savior?

On Cyprus August 13, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 13:4-12.

Summary: In this passage, Barnabas and Saul traveled with John Mark from Antioch to Salamis via Seleucia. They preached the Gospel message in the Jewish synagogues in Salamis. They then traveled throughout Cyprus until they reached Paphos, where they attempted to preach the Gospel message to a proconsul named Sergius Paulus. Although they were opposed by a Jewish sorceror named Elymas, the Holy Spirit worked through Saul – who was also called Paul – to strike Elymas with blindness; this miracle helped Sergius Paulus to believe the Gospel message.

Thoughts: I hope to meet Sergius Paulus in the next life and learn more about him. How did he become the proconsul of Cyprus? What challenges did he face while serving in that capacity? How did he meet Elymas, and how did Elymas become one of his attendants? Why did Luke note his intelligence in verse 7? What was his worldview before he met Elymas (and before he met Paul and Barnabas)? Would he have believed the Gospel message if Paul had not blinded Elymas? How did his life glorify God after the events of this passage?

Barnabas and Saul Sent Off August 4, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 13:1-3.

Summary: In this passage, the church in Antioch publicly confirmed God’s commission for Barnabas and Saul to preach the Gospel message to the Gentiles. Barnabas and Saul then left Antioch.

Thoughts: I hope to meet Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene and Manaen in the next life and learn more about them. How did they initially hear the Gospel message? Did they accept it with alacrity, or did they harbor doubts regarding its veracity? Why was Simeon also referred to as Niger? What compelled Lucius to leave Cyrene and travel to Antioch? What compelled Manaen to leave the household of Herod and travel to Antioch? Did they enjoy serving with Barnabas and Saul in the church in Antioch? How did they sense that the Holy Spirit was calling Barnabas and Saul to leave Antioch? How did they serve that church after that event?