Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

07/17/16 Sermon - Preaching Isn't Easy

“Preaching Isn’t Easy”

Acts 13:14-52

 

We continue to read through the Book of Acts. Which, as a reminder, the actual title of the Book is “The Acts of the Apostles” and is the second volume of a book entitled, “History of Christian Origins”, which has been commonly known as “The Gospel According to Luke”. We are currently in the 13th chapter of the book and this is where we begin to see the missionary acts of the apostles. Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. I would like you to take a look at the diagram on the back of your bulletin of the outline of the Book of Acts. Chapter 13 can be located in green approximately in the middle of the outline, around 47 AD, just before the Jerusalem Council met regarding the Gentiles. For the past twelve years, Paul had been in seclusion. He and Barnabas have been commissioned by the Christian church in Antioch, to go share the gospel message. They take John Mark with them and went to the island of Cyprus where Barnabas and John Mark were originally from.

Today we read about the second leg of their journey.

John Mark has gone back to Jerusalem and Paul and Barnabas have traveled across the Mediterranean to Perga, where there is no record of them preaching or sharing the gospel, instead they traveled directly to Pisidian, Antioch. Will there, like faithful Jews, when the Sabbath arrived they found the nearest synagogue and sat down.

Interestingly enough, the leaders at this synagogue ask Paul and Barnabas if they have anything they would like to share with the group. This is a first! Must have been a “God thing”.

Notice who Paul stated he addressed, “fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God.” At this point in the history of the Christian church, if you were a Gentile, and you believed in Jesus Christ as the Savior for both Jews and Gentiles, you would have gone to the Jewish synagogue to worship. In 48AD there weren’t any protestant churches in town. The division of Jewish believers and Christian believers came about after the Council of Jerusalem in 50AD and the Destruction of Jerusalem Temple in 70AD. As Paul and Barnabas sat they would have been surrounded by both Jews and Gentiles. What an opportunity!

Paul had a captive audience who were already primed to hear a message from God, because they all came to the synagogue to hear an exhortation of some sort. Paul did not hesitate, but seized the moment. His exhortation began with the history of the Israel nation, back in Egypt. You may remember? The Moses thing? When God heard the cries of His people and caused them to prosper while enslaved in Egypt. He then led them safely out of that country and sustained them for forty years as they wandered in the wilderness or desert. Eventually they conquered seven nations in Canaan, and gained the land as an inheritance for their people. All of this took about 450 years.

Paul continued to summarize what happened to the Jewish nation and reminded them that God gave them judges until the time of Samuel, and when the people asked for a king, so they could be like all the other nations around them, God gave them Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled for forty years. Saul messed up and David became their king. God testified concerning David that He found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after His own heart.

From David, Paul skipped directly to what we know as the New Testament. Paul reminded the listeners that God had promised Israel a Savior, and that he would come from the descendants of David. God also promised to send a messenger to come before this Savior which would have been John the Baptist. Paul reminded them that the rulers and the people of Jerusalem did not recognize Jesus. Paul should know, he was one of them. Yet, without realizing it, those leaders fulfilled the words of the prophets. Paul, after meeting Jesus face to face, admited that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus walked around with others in his resurrected body, from Galilee to Jerusalem. And those people He walked with, were now his witnesses to the Jewish and Gentile people.

Then Paul proclaimed the Good News, Jesus was the answer to what God had promised their ancestors in the book of Psalms. Jesus was indeed their Messiah, they had been waiting for. The best part of the message of the Messiah was that the resurrection was also available for anyone who believed.

The plan of salvation for God’s children was the ultimate forgiveness of sins. Paul clearly stated that through Jesus, everyone who believed was set free from every sin. Something that was impossible for humans to obtain under the Law of Moses.

Whatever Paul had said, it at least managed to get those listening to think, because as they were leaving the synagogue they were invited to return and share more on the next Sabbath. In the meantime, Paul and Barnabas were able to encourage many of the Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism, to continue walking in the grace of God.

By the next week, word had spread about what Paul had said, and the synagogue was packed with almost the whole city gathered to hear what he had to say. Oops! The Jewish leaders got jealous, they had never attracted such a large crowd. Their second attempt to speak God’s message was quickly thwarted as the Jewish leaders began to contradict what Paul had to say and speak out against him.

How ironic! Paul had been asked by them to come and share. Now he and Barnabas were being rebuked and abused. However, Paul and Barnabas had been good Old Testament students and answered boldly. They recognized that God had said to bring the salvation message to the Jews first and knowing they would reject it, they were to next share it with the Gentiles. Well you can imagine how each group felt. The Gentiles were excited!

They were not to be left out, they felt glad they had been appointed for eternal life.  The Jewish leaders on the other hand were outraged. They went directly to the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city and incited them to create lies and spread rumors about Paul and Barnabas. So much so, that Paul and Barnabas were expelled from the region. Not before the Word of the Lord had spread throughout the whole region.

Paul and Barnabas begin an activity they would be doing a lot of during their missionary journeys. They shook the dust off their feet and went to the next city on their itinerary. Luke wrote that they did so with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

All in all, rather discouraging if you ask me, at least from a personal point of view, don’t you think? This preaching thing didn’t seem to bring out the best in everyone. Well for some it changed their lives for eternity, but for those who were in charge of how things were done, it made life for the itinerant preachers rather difficult.

There must have been something in their calling or a connection between Paul and God, as well as, Barnabas and God, that transcended reality. This was just the beginning of their missionary journey. They did manage to have rather positive connections with those in Cyprus, but it wasn’t long before difficulties emerged. John Mark, whom they had brought along had skipped out and gone home. And now they were first being asked to share and when what they were sharing became popular the leaders turn on them.

It must have been confusing. Isn’t the whole idea to have as many people enter the kingdom as possible? Yet, when it happened, the leaders got jealous and jealousy led to lies, rumors and nastiness. Paul and Barnabas responded in the manner Jesus once told his disciples to do when he sent them out two by two to the Jews and proclaim the kingdom of God was at hand, and to heal and drive out evil spirits, in Matthew 10. They shook the dust off their feet and kept going, with joy and the Holy Spirit.

What a lesson for us today. I suspect the hidden secret, is the Holy Spirit. Because left on our own, our humanity gets in the way and discouragement overcomes joy when we have been made the object of nasty rumors. And things go awry when it looks like we have been successful and then it turns out our success is the very thing that causes others to hate us or turn against us. Especially we have been stepping out and sharing the gospel with someone. Today’s Scripture gives two important responsibilities for us, as Christians, to consider.

The first is evangelism. Paul and Barnabas were the first to step out of their comfort zone and place sharing the gospel more important than any other thing in their lives. I suspect had they taken the Spiritual Gifts survey, evangelism would have been one of the top gifts they had been given. However, Matthew 28, which we call the “Great Commission” has been given to all believers.

Then we also have 1 Peter 3:13-15

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

That is an excellent question, “Are you prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” With gentleness and respect?

Paul was, are you?

While I was studying at Cornell University I belonged to the Navigators, a Christian parachurch organization on campus.

The main focus of the Navigators was to fulfill the great commission and make disciples. One of the ways we would reach out to the students on campus was to offer surveys to incoming Freshman during their first week of school. We would take turns hanging out at the entrance of the freshman dorms and ask students as they walked by if they would be willing to answer a few questions. One of the questions was, “Would you be willing to meet with someone and have them share what the Bible has to say about you?” If the student said yes, we would take down their dorm room number and phone number and tell them someone would call to schedule a time for someone to come and visit. At the visit, two of us would arrive.

One person would share and the other person would pray. The person who was doing the speaking would draw out on a piece of paper a concise synopsis of how the story of Jesus from the Bible was meant for them. It was an illustration known as the Bridge and would take about two minutes to complete. Then the person was to give a personal testimony of how they had come to know Christ. Depending on how the student responded the student was either invited to a discussion group that would be meeting in their dorm or the two would thank the student for their time, and leave, shaking the dust off their feet.

This was the 21st Century version of sharing the gospel, much like the 1st Century version we just read. You can bet that Paul didn’t just walk into the synagogue that day and pull out his concise version of the history of the Jews from his head. Paul had spent time, 12 years in fact, putting all of the facts together, re-reading his Torah, the prophets and wisdom literature. He had his argument well thought out and organized. We will notice that he manages to adapt his thesis to fit the surroundings, but his story is still the same.

What about you? What about today? Can you condense the gospel into two minutes in such a way that would make sense for someone today?

Then what about your own story?

It has been documented that attention span time is diminishing. In order to keep the attention of your listener it is important to concentrate on the significant, and add the filler later. Paul used these two items, the condensed Bible story and his personal testimony throughout his life. We are told it is the Holy Spirit that opens people’s minds and hearts to respond positively.

It is important to remember, “how” we share the gospel, is not what makes the difference, “that” we share the gospel is.

Paul wrote in Romans 10:14

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

That means you, that means me. But beware. The world doesn’t want to hear the gospel. Like the leaders of the synagogue and the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city they will turn on you and try to stop you. Preaching isn’t easy, but it’s what we are called to do. When we do, like Paul and Barnabas, we too will be filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

 

Let’s pray.