Last week we began a new series from Acts 13-14, a new section in the book of Acts marked off by two references to “the work” of the missionaries sent out from the Antioch Church. At the beginning of this section, in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit is recorded as saying, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” and then we find at the end of these chapters that they return to Antioch, 14:26 says, “where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.” They went out to do something that God had set in front of them to do, and they knew when they had done it. So what was it they were to do? Well, that’s what we find in chapters 13-14.
It’s good for us to examine this work, for it will help us to assess whether we are actually living for the mission that God has placed before us; individually, yes, but more so, collectively as his church. Are we doing what God has set in front of us to do? And so it’s quite common these days for churches to draft mission statements and the like to keep us on target, to keep the work in front of us. If you look at the top of your bulletin, you’ll see the phrase that is also on the screen behind me: OCBC English Congregation: Helping People Walk the Way of Christ. Have you ever wondered what that means? Well as we go through Acts 13-14 we’re going to unpack that over these four weeks. We’re going to study what Paul and his missionary band did as they fulfilled “the work” and evaluate how we are doing as a congregation in light of what we find.
Luke gives us a summary of this work in 14:21-23
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Today we’re going to focus on this work of preaching the gospel, the greek word here is euangelizo, from which we get our verb, EVANGELIZE. So when we say we exist to “help people walk the way of Christ”, the first part of that work is to “point people to the Way.” We proclaim through clear words and loving works the good news that Jesus is the Only Way to the Father, as He himself said, “I am the Way, the True and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” This is a difficult mission in offense-driven world, to proclaim Jesus as the only way. Just this past week there was a small controversy in the States as Congressman Bernie Sanders seemed appalled that a Christian would point to Christ as the only Way of salvation.
Our culture seems to think that choosing a religion is like shopping. I look for the shirt that suits me, you look good in that one. And we go around flattering each others wardrobe, and it would be absurd to say “Plaid is the Only Way”. But choosing a religion is not like shopping. Choosing a religion is more like drowning. For a person drowning, when they are thrown a life preserver, they do not ask whether or not this suits them, they hold on because its all that they’ve got. They hold on and live, or let go and die. We’re not shopping for gods, were drowning in gods, drowning in a sea of religions, drowning in a sea of world views, nothing solid under our feet, nothing holding the universe together, and Jesus jumps in to save us. And so we point to Him not as a fashionable sweater, but as the life preserver thrown into this world to save us. For the bad news is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and therefore stand condemned under his wrath, but God offers forgiveness of sins to everyone who calls upon Him.
Let’s quickly survey these two chapters and see how they pointed people to Jesus as the Way.
1. We Strategically Point People to the Way You get the sense in these two chapters that these missionaries went out with a plan, so they might most effectively point people to the Way.
They looked at a map. Acts 13:4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God win the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.
They went first to Cyprus (where Barnabas knew the land and the people), then they sailed to Asia Minor, where they first went to the major city of Pisidia, also named Antioch (maybe they thought it would be appropriate to go from Antioch to Antioch, and then traced the rout back toward Tarsus, where Paul had already spent time. They went out methodically, hitting the major cities and establishing churches there, that the churches might reach the villages around them.
They looked at the opportunities. Notice in Acts 13:5 that “they proclaimed the word in the synagogues of the Jews.” This was both because they had a theological conviction that the Jewish people had a priority of place in the preaching of the gospel, and thus it was there custom first to proclaim Christ to the Jews of every city before turning to the Gentiles, but it was also very practical. As travelling teachers who were Jews themselves, they would often be invited to share a word with the synagogues, and you can see in 13:14 “but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” What an opportunity! This is what we pray for!
They looked at the people. They proclaimed the good news of Jesus in language that the people understood. When they were in the synagogues, they started with the Bible, and after recounting the story of salvation from the Jewish scriptures, 13:32 “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.” Later, in chapter 14 we have an example of their preaching to the Gentiles, 14:15, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” They were strategic in their starting point in proclaiming the word to various different people. This was part of Paul’s strategy, as he says in 1 Cor. 9:19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
We Strategically Point People to the Way As we move into our new Neighbourhood, Old Ottawa East, we believe God is planting us in a strategic place, we are in the process of identifying opportunities and getting to know the people. Main Event next weekend.
2. We Cooperatively Point People to the Way
Notice that in all of Paul’s missionary journeys, he never went out alone. They Worked as a Team. Saul and Barnabas together went out, taking John Mark with them, to assist them. We know from the book of Acts that these Pauline teams banded together for the mission. As you read through the book of Acts and other epistles you be introduced to men and women such as Titus and Timothy and Apollos and Priscilla and Aquilla, and a dozen others who travelled with Paul on these journeys not to mention the people and churches that supported them. In this Christian mission, there are no lone evangelists in the Bible. Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two. Even at your school or workplace, you know how hard it is when you’re the only one, when you’re trying to point to Jesus as the Way but you’re alone.
As they pointed people to the Way and made disciples, They Gathered People Together into churches. Churches like Jerusalem in which they devoted themselves together to the apostles teaching and prayer and the Lord’s supper and selfless sharing. Churches like Antioch in which Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slave and free worshipped together side by side. The point is that there were no independent, unaffiliated Christians. They weren’t out to simply make converts, they were out to gather people together into churches, for they knew that we cannot do this alone. In the book of Acts there is no such thing as churchless evangelism, the proclamation of the gospel inevitable led to the formation of new churches. See when you know the mission of God, you are compelled to band together with one another to fulfill the mission of God. You look to your right and to your left and see that this is not a social club, these are your colabourors, your teammates, your fellow soldiers set on this mission together.
We Cooperatively Point People to the Way We band together at OCBC to set the mission in front of one another and to pursue it together. We believe we can do more together than we can apart - including our entire church, the Chinese congregation. And so we need your help, especially as we move into the new neighbourhood.
3. We Fearlessly Point People to the Way
You can’t read the book of Acts without being inspired by how fearlessly they pointed people to the way. Just as Jesus said, the Church of God has always been advancing, even as the gates of hell attempt to prevail against it.
In their first stop in the city of Salimis on the Island of Cyprus, the missionaries are FEARLESS in the face of OPPOSITION.
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. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
When they get to Pisidian Antioch, the missionaries are FEARLESS in the face of HATRED. They are initially allowed to preach in the synagogues, but as they gain more and more hearers, “14:45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And again, the missionaries are fearless, undeterred and speak out body.
Finally, in the most amazing story of this entire section: Paul is FEARLESS in the face of PERSECUTION: Acts 14:19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
What would possess a person left for dead to get up and go back into the city? Because Jesus is not a shirt that we wear. Jesus is savior. And so We Fearlessly Point People to the Way
This is part of what it means to help people walk the way of Christ. We proclaim through clear words and loving works the good news that Jesus is the Only Way to the Father. Strategically, in our personal spheres of influence and our shared community of Old Ottawa East, cooperatively, bandied together for this work as a team and gathering together those who believe, and fearlessly, knowing the power of God to save through Jesus Christ.