Saturday, 19 October 2013

Acts 13 - Grace, Faith and the Power of the Story of Jesus

13Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

Now is the moment.

There’s a message to share.

And Saul – still known as Saul – is the one to share it.  But not on his own.  He is joined by Barnabas – and they are commissioned to do the work of God and they set sail for Cyprus – And straightaway they have a message to share.

They proclaim the word of God – and they have John, John Mark, to assist them.   There is opposition – and Saul, who we learn at this point is also known as Paul – faces down that opposition.  And from now on it is as Paul that he is known.

13 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; 14but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.’ 16So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:

They cross over to the mainland to what we now think of as  Turkey and it’s not long before John Mark leaves and returns to Jerusalem.  We are not told at this point what’s happened.  But as later becomes apparent something untoward – maybe he couldn’t keep the pace.

It’s to the synagogues where Paul senses that following Jesus is what it means authentically to be Jewish.

And he speaks.

One genius Paul has is to start where people are at.

Here are Jewish people and his message starts with them.

He tells the story of God’s choice of his people, of the exodus and the forty years wandering, of the promised land, of the judges, the arrival of the prophet Samuel.  He notices that it is the people who ask for a king and God gives them first Saul and then David.

There is a wonderful tribute to David.

“”I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.”

He has arrived at the kingdom … and then he makes a leap – and yet it is a leap with continuity – a wonderful continuity.

Of this man’s posterity, God has brought to Israel a  Saviour, Jesus, as he promised.

For Paul what is significant is that Jesus takes up where John the Baptist left off and takes on his mantle.

Notice in verse 27 he is careful to say it is the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders who did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.

They seek his death – and ask Pilate to carry it out.

Crucified, he was taken down from the tree, and laid in a tomb.

But God raised him from the dead;

It is the reality of the resurrection that so impacts on Paul and he wants to share it with his hearers.

For many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people.

So This is the Good News – that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus …

So what is the impact of this?  First, it is what had been expected

It is through this man that forgiveness is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Don’t reject it.

Let’s pause a moment.

What is the good news we have to share?

It was good to be invited to join St Michael’s in their festival fortnight and make a contribution to the Science and Religion debate.  It was fascinating to join up with the Manager of the Cornerstone Project – I told my story of coming from a fascination with faith to explore Science.  He spoke of being a scientist, a geologist, and coming to faith.

In conversation in readiness for the evening and then through the evening itself one thing really struck me.

I love discussing about God.  And I believe passionately we must be able to make an account of our faith in a way that makes sense in the context of science.  BUT.

The heart of the message of our Christian faith is elsewhere.

So to ofor Jim.

Start with the God of philosophy and think of God as all powerful, all knowing, all loving and you end up in a blind alley.

No, our Christian faith starts elsewhere.

And this is what we are beginning to learn in Acts.   And what now we learn as Paul’s mission starts.

The story we have to tell, the Good news we have to share starts with Jesus Christ.

We need to introduce people to the story of Jesus to his life and ministry, the way o flife he opens up for us to follow, we need to tell the story of his death and discover that the God we believe in comes alongside us in our sufreing, of that resurrection victory.

There is a clear way of life to follow.

And a wonderful sense of forgiving love that then comes upon us to and flows from the cross.

And this opens up for us not so much an understanding of God as a realization that he is one who loves and cares for us, one who is always with us, one who will not let us go, one who forvives and enables us to begin all over again.

The response initially is very positive here in Antioch in Pisidia.

Acts 13:42-52

42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44 The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
   so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ’

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. 49Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. 50But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. 51So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

The word that is translated ‘the Jews’ could be translated as Judeans.  We catch a glimpse here of the growing tension with officialdom of the Jewish people – maybe shaped by the Judean hierarchies of the temple authorities, the herodian power.

For Paul the moment has come when the whole purpose of God’s choice of his people is to reach out into the world.  And it is to that wider world that Paul turns his attention.  It’s a theme that comes into its own in the second part of Isaiah and it is to Isaiah 49 and Isaiah 45 that Paul turns for inspiration.

The whole point of the chosen people is that

I have set you be a light for the gentiles,
So that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

And that is the point Paul has reached at this moment.  And the powers that be among the Jewish community don’t like it and hound Paul out of that city.

I want to pick up on some lovely phrases here …

Initially Paul urged those who received the word  favourably in the synagogue ‘to continue in the grace of God’.

What a challenge for us.  Our task is ‘to continue in the grace of God’.

When the Gentiles heard it

They were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.

And finally, And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Grace – faith response to that grace – and then joy and the presence of the Holy Spirit deep within.

This is the essence of what it means to be Christian.

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