We come this morning to our final message in our 12-week overview of the Bible. Each Sunday, we have taken a chunk of the history of the Bible story line. We have been expositing the Bible on the large scale. The hope is that the view of the whole has helped you to gain a perspective in the study of the parts.
In our study, we began with the creation account, where we saw God creating the world and the disaster that we encountered as Adam and Eve fell into sin. We continued on to the patriarchs, when God chose and called Abraham to be the recipient of His great blessing, which extend even to us. Next, we looked at the exodus, where God was redeeming His people from slavery in Egypt. The conquest was next. In this stage, we looked at the book of Joshua and how the people came and conquered the promised land by the power of God. After this came the judges, the dark ages of the Bible, when God repeatedly had to save His people Israel through the means of a deliverer, called Judges. Then came the kingdom. First came Saul, then David, and then Solomon. After the days of Solomon, the kingdom was divided with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. We looked at how Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, and how Judah was exiled by the Babylonians. This led us to the exile. Judah spent 70 years in Babylon, reaping the consequences of their sin. After the exile came the return. In three phases, a portion of Judah returned to the promised land. We then spent a week looking at the silence in the Bible, the period of time between the Old and New Testaments in which we have no revelation. We spent a week on the life of Jesus, which we identified as the gospel stage. Last time, we looked at the church stage by looking at Acts, chapters 1-12, which tell of the development of the early church. And now, today, we come to our last stage in our study, the missions stage.
There is nothing magic about these twelve stages. They aren't perfect. In fact, as we come toward the end of our study, I have seen first-hand how these stages aren't perfect, especially as it deals with the end. For instance, no mention is given in these 12 stages of the return of Christ or of heaven and eternity. Perhaps the originator of the twelve stages, Max Anders, who's book, "30 days to understanding the Bible" is the source of the twelve stages that we have been working through, didn't include stages regarding the return of Christ because of the controversy surrounding such things as the tribulation and the millennium. Though, he did deal with this topic in the theological section of his book. Perhaps he didn't include any stages of the future, because he wanted his readers to feel the force of where we live today. We live in a day of missions. We live in a day where the gospel needs to reach the world. I'm not sure. But, what I do know is that we have come to the "mission" stage in our study.
This morning, we are going to walk through Acts 13-21. It's an exciting passage of Scripture that traces how the church initially expanded into the Gentile world. Now, it's not that God's heart for missions merely began in the book of Acts. No, God has always had a heart for those outside the Jewish community.
When the covenant initially came to Abraham, the promise was that through him, "All the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gen. 12:1). This is the good news, that God's blessing to Abraham would extend to throughout the whole world, even to the Gentiles. In Psalm 117, the call is for all to worship God. "Praise the LORD, all nations" (Ps. 117:1). All nations is a summons beyond merely the Jewish nation. It's a summons to all peoples, Jew and Gentile, to worship the LORD. The great missionary Psalm, Psalm 67 has a heart for the nations as well. "God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us. That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations" (Psalm 67:1-2). It's God's blessing, resting upon Israel, that they would have the resources to spread the fame of His name to nations beyond Israel, and see many in those nations saved from their sins!
God has always had a heart for missions. But, in the book of Acts, we see His heart for the nation manifested clearly. Like in other overview messages in our survey, we aren't going to have the opportunity to look exhaustively at our text. And, again, our aim this morning is going to be historical. That is, we are going to trace the historical development of the missions era in the Bible. Along the way, I'm going to pull out a few points of application for us. Here's my first point this morning, ...
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
This is where we see the missions movement of the church begin. Now, it's not that there was no missionary activity before this time. In Acts, chapter 10, we saw last time how Peter traveled to Caesarea, to the home of Cornelius, spreading the gospel to the Gentiles. However, Peter's journeys to Caesarea was more or less pressed upon him by God, as He appeared to him in a vision. See, it wasn't Peter's idea to bring the gospel to them. But, God had pushed him to go to the Gentiles. Furthermore, in Acts 11, we see the church in Antioch growing strong. Antioch was in Gentile territory. However, those in Antioch were "speaking the word to no one except [the] Jews" (Acts 11:19).
But, here in Acts 13, we see the church making efforts to reach the world with the gospel of Christ. This was all in obedience to the great commission, "Go into all the world and make disciples" (Matt. 28:19). Now, if you look closely, you realize, once again, that it is really the Holy Spirit that pressed the issue. We see here in verse 1 the leaders of the church in Antioch, Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul. In verse 2 we read that they were "ministering to the Lord and fasting." I believe that this merely means that they were praying and fasting, seeking God's directions for the church. And then, ... God spoke.
What a prayer meeting this would have been! You are praying, seeking the Lord, and He speaks! He speaks audibly, so that all in the prayer meeting can understand. Now, people say all the time, "God told me this," or "God told me that." Most often, they don't mean that God spoke to them in the same way that those in Antioch heard God speak. Usually, they merely mean that they feel led to some work in the Lord and attribute to God the fact that their hearts are ready, willing and able in these areas. Anyway, We read in verse 2, "The Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'" That was how God was speaking.
The work to which they had been called was the work of missions. We see this in verse 3, "Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." They went out with the blessing of the people. And, they went out with the blessing of God.
Missions starts with prayer (Acts 13:1-3). Missions starts with prayer, because God is the one who directs the mission of the church. We need to be a praying people, praying for our role to impact the world for Christ.
The book of Acts records three missionary journeys that Paul took. Here is a summary of them.
Missionary Journey #1: Acts 13-14
Missionary Journey #2: Acts 15-18
Missionary Journey #3: Acts 18-21
Continuing on, we read, ...
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Seleucia was a city on the coast, just a bit south of Antioch. They crossed the eastern portion of the Mediterranean sea and came to the western shore of the island of Cyprus.
When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.
We'll see this as we work through the book of Acts. They always went to the Jew first, and then to the Greek. After all, this makes sense. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. He was the Messiah, who had come to the Jews. Why not bring the message to them? And we see that they did this as they crossed the island of Cyprus.
When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus.
Verses 7-12 tell what took place with Bar-Jesus. But, for our point, we see that they traveled through the entire island in their mission. In verse 13, we see them embarking on another sea voyage.
Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.
In chapter 13, we are given an extended look into what took place in the synagogue in Antioch. Basically, revival broke out. We can read the circumstances beginning in verse 15, ...
After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, "Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it."
Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. When He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance--all of which took about four hundred and fifty years. After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, "I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all My will." From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.
At this point, I want to stop here and point out how Paul's message merely worked through the stages of the Bible. He mentions the patriarchs in verse 17. The exodus is also mentioned in verse 17. Then the conquest in verse 19. The judges came in verse 20. Then, the kingdom in verses 21 and 22. He skips over the exile, the return, and the silence. But, then lands squarely on the gospel, with Jesus in verse 23, "From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus."
From this point on, the message is all about Jesus. This is my second point, ...
I know that it will take a bit of time, but I want for you to read through Paul's message. And as you do, I want for you to notice how saturated his message is with Jesus.
From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, "What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie."
Brethren, sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, "You are My Son; Today I have begotten You." As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: "I will give you the Holy and Sure blessings of David." Therefore He also says in another Psalm, "You will not allow Your holy one to undergo decay." For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.
Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: "Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you."
According to my count, Paul mentions Jesus 20 times in these 19 verses, laying particular emphasis upon His resurrection, mentioning it 4 times. This helps to show that missions is all about Jesus (Acts 13:16-52). The reason why we send people out, the reason why we support those in the work, and the reason why we pray for the world, is because of Jesus!
Paul's conclusion sums up the message very well.
Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
There's the gospel in a simple form. It is through Jesus that we receive (1) forgiveness. It is through Jesus that we receive (2) freedom.
(1). Those who believe in Jesus have forgiveness of all of their sins that they have committed in the past. They are wiped away. God will no longer bring them to remembrance. We will no longer have to dread the day of judgment, because they are forgiven. But, the good news goes beyond this.
(2). Those who believe in Jesus have freedom from the tyranny of the law upon our lives. In Christ, we are no longer obligated to keep the sacrifices or the rituals. We no longer need to keep the feasts and eat only kosher foods or keep the land dormant one year out of every seven. We no longer need a priest. We don't have to go Jerusalem 3 times each year to worship. We are free from all of those things! We are free to worship Jesus and to enjoy Him forever!
Apart from this, there is no reason for missions. The message of Jesus is so great that we will spend and be spent to see His name sent out from us! Do you believe in Him? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins? Do you believe that Jesus has made you free? Does your life reflect it? Now, the response of Paul's message here in Antioch was encouraging.
As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.
All were curious about the message. Some had even believed and had embraced Jesus and had gone on to follow him. But, things took a turn in verse 44, ...
The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, 'I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.'"
I trust that you get the picture. At first, the Jews were curious. But, when the Jews saw that Paul's message went to the Gentiles, they were not happy. They began to argue with Paul and to contradict him. And so, Paul pointed out to them that this was God's plan from the beginning. It was prophesied by Isaiah that the Jews would be a light to bring salvation to the Gentiles. And, I love the response of the Gentiles, ...
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
They heard that the gospel was for them! They heard that salvation had been extended to them! And they were ecstatic! They were "rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord!" Is this your response to the gospel? Is this your response to the message of forgiveness and freedom in Christ? If you are thinking correctly, it ought to be.
Beginning in verse 49, we see my next point of application, ...
In verse 49 we see the missions work succeeding.
And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. Paul and Barnabas had been sent out to spread the word, and it was spreading.
But, we see the difficulty in verse 50, ...
13:50 But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.
To bring the gospel to a new region is very difficult work. In this case, Paul and Barnabas were driven away from the city. But this didn't deter Paul and Barnabas. We read in verse 51, ...
But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas are in Iconium. Again, they face difficulties. Though many believed (verse 1), we see the difficulties come in verse 2,
The Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.
To make a long story short, let's skip down to verse 5, ...
And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, they became aware of it and fled.
They fled to Lystra (as you can see in verse 8). But, again, they faced some of the same difficulties, once again.
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.
This is the story, in about every town they went. Things start to go well, but then, the Jews came and sought to stop the work. This is missions work. It is difficult work. The difficulties we see here are as a result of the hostility of the Jews toward the gospel, which led to the physical persecution of Paul and Barnabas. But, there other difficulties in missions work as well. There are difficulties of language. Going into a foreign culture to communicate a message in a foreign language is hard work. There are difficulties of culture. Regardless of the message, many people view missionaries as intruders on their culture. There are difficulties of living. This is especially true in remote locations. On top of this, there is the difficulty of loneliness or a lack of resources. But, that's missions work.
When we think of missions, we can easily think only of new frontier work, which we surely have seen in the book of Acts. And yet, here in the book of Acts, we also see the strengthening of work of missions. In Acts 14:21, we see Paul and Barnabas finishing their missions trip by retracing their steps. In verse 21, we read, ...
After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.
If you notice, this is the exact opposite of how they came. When they came into this region, they arrived initially in Antioch. Then, they proceeded to Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe. And now, they turned around to retrace their steps. They went from Derbe to Iconium to Lystra to Antioch. As they came through these cities, they were "strengthening" those who had believed.
... strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
The new believers had been facing some pressure from those in opposition to the gospel. Paul's mission in returning to them was to encourage them. "Listen, it's not surprising that you would be facing these difficulties. It's the way of the Christian life. It's the way that we are called to enter the kingdom of God. So, continue on!"
We see their strengthening efforts continue in verse 23, ...
When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
I believe that this was also a strengthening effort. People are strengthened in community. This is the point of Hebrews 3:12-14, where the writer calls us to encourage one another to press on in the faith. The act of establishing leadership in the churches is an effort to establish people in community.
Yet, there is another element in their strengthening ministry to these people. They prayed for them. The text says that they "commended them to the Lord" (verse 23). Never underestimate the power of prayer in strengthening a people.
At this point, Paul and Barnabas traveled home.
They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.
And that was the end of the first missionary journey recorded in the Bible. When they arrived at home, they gave a report of all that the Lord had done (Acts 14:27). And then, "they spent a long time with the disciples" (Acts 14:28). This was their continued strengthening ministry in the life of the church in Antioch.
From the best we can tell, Paul remained in Antioch for several years. At one point, the idea of a return trip came to Paul. He said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are" (Acts 15:36). Paul wanted to return and renew their relationships and strengthen those in the churches they established.
Sadly, there was a disagreement between Barnabas and Paul regarding whether or not Mark would go with them. Barnabas and Mark sailed away to Cyprus (15:39). But Paul and Silas took the land route to the north.
This is the beginning of what is known as Paul's second missionary journey. This trip began with an effort to continue his strengthening efforts. We read, "he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches" (Acts 15:41). In chapter 16, verse 1, we see that they returned to Derbe and Lystra. In verse 5, we have a summary of their visit to these churches.
The churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
Their aim in this trip was to strengthen the believers, which can be the aim of much missions. It doesn't merely need to be a frontier type ministry. Now, we come to my last point, ...
Now, when I say, "unpredictable," don't think that this means that God is in any way out of control. Rather, I'm saying that it is unpredictable to us, because God is in control. But, we find it unpredictable, but God has His fingers over all of our effort. Let's pick up the travels of Paul and Silas in verse 6.
They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them. and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
Do you catch what's going on here? Paul and Silas were traveling west of Antioch, wanting to go into Asia to bring the gospel to them, but the Holy Spirit prevented them from going there. After traveling a bit further, they tried to go north into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from doing so. Often people say, "Why would God prevent the gospel from going to a new region?" We don't know. We simply know that Paul and Silas had their plans, but God was directing their steps.
For those of you who know about missions efforts, you know that this is normal place. You plan and plan and plan, but your plans are changed. We need to see them as the sovereign, guiding hand of God.
At the end of my message, Frank Yonke is going to report on his trip to the Philippines last month. He has been involved with the ministry in the Philippines for some 15 years. To the best of my knowledge, it all started when a small group of collegians from Grace Church of DuPage traveled to conduct some ministry with a contact that they had in the Philippines. However, upon arriving, they realized that the ministry they were going to support had faced some trying times because the eruption of a volcano. Thus, they weren't prepared for their arrival. Anyway, these collegians went to the Grace to You office in Manilla one of the days that they were there and happened to run into Pastor Lito. On the spur of the moment, he and a deacon agreed to take these collegians into their homes for the next few weeks while they were in the Philippines. The group came back excited that they had found this church in the Philippines who believed exactly what they believed. Several more trips were taken. Friendships were established. And there has been a mutually encouraging relationship with Divine Grace Bible Church in Tarloc city for some 15 years now. It wasn't as planned. They had planned to help one ministry, but God prevented that, so that they might hook up with this church. But, it is the way that missions works. "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Prov. 16:9).
This is similar to the way in which we have been led to be involved in the nation of Nepal. In the early days of Rock Valley Bible Church, we were looking to minister abroad to a place that was difficult. Initially, we were being led to help the church in India. But, a man, who was more familiar with the situation, told us, "If you want to go someplace where it is difficult, then go to Nepal." Through a man in our congregation, we already had a connection with Nepal, and so we continued with our efforts to help the church in Nepal. We had planned our way, but God was directing our steps.
Regarding Paul's circumstances, we find him in Troas. But, he received a vision in the night. At this point, it became clear to him why they were prevented from going into Asia and into Bithinia. It's because they were being called to Macedonia.
A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
And so, off they went, across the Aegean sea, through Samothrace, to Neapolis, landing finally in Philippi (Acts 16:11-12). Throughout the rest of their journey, it was much the same. They were following the hand of the Lord all the way.
In Philippi they went "to a riverside, where [they] were supposing that there would be a place of prayer" (Acts 16:13). Upon arrival, they found a few women, one of whom was named Lydia. God's hand was upon her as "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14).
Soon after that, they were imprisoned. On the one hand, we might think that this was a terrible thing. But, such was means of the conversion of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:30-34). Eventually, the leaders of the city of Philippi urged them to depart, and so they did.
They traveled down to Thessalonica (which is recorded at the beginning of chapter 17), but were there about three weeks before being booted from the city as well. And yet, the Lord established a church there, as Paul wrote 2 letters to them, which are recorded in our Bibles. They then went to Berea (17:10), but were required to leave that city as well. They then arrived in Athens, where there was great freedom to preach. They weren't kicked out of that city, but then again, the city was mostly indifferent. However, a few believed in Christ (according to Acts 17:34).
After Athens, Paul went to Corinth. There, he found a great reception with the gospel. We read, ...
Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.
Although Paul faced some resistance in Corinth as well, he refused to leave, because he had received a vision in the night.
And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city."
And so, Paul remained in Corinth for 18 months, teaching the word of God among the Corinthians (18:11). This is how God works. On his journeys, he spent only days in some locations. And here in Corinth, he spent a year and a half! It was unpredictable, because God was guiding them all the way.
After the 18 months in Corinth, Paul returned to Antioch, by way of Ephesus (Acts 18:19) and Caesarea (Acts 18:22) and arrived at home. Soon afterwards, Paul departed for his third missions journey (Acts 18:23).
For the sake of time and space, we will be unable to work through that
journey. However, it would be profitable for you to consider a map of their travels and
become familiar with them, especially as they give insight into some of Paul's letters
to the churches, such as Thessalonica, Philippi, and Corinth. His travels are recorded
in Acts 18-21.
May God give us a heart for missions!
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
September 20, 2009 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.
 As we trace through the these missions journeys, it is helpful to see where they went. Most Bibles have maps it the back of them, which will help you if you consult them in reading this sermon. In order to help you, I plan on bold facing all of the locations where Paul traveled.