JANUARY 21st, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS ACTS 9:22-30;11:19-21/ 11:-25-6; 13:1-12
“CALLED TO BE SENT”
Last week we began a new series, walking, as it were, in the footprints of Paul. We started by reading about how Paul, or Saul, as he was originally known, encountered Jesus on the road to Damas-cus, where Saul intended to arrest and haul back in chains to Jerusalem any belivers he found there.
But Jesus had other plans for Saul. Having blinded him in a bright light, Jesus sent a disciple by the name of Ananias to Straight street to set Saul straight, so to speak. Reminds me of a Facebook post Nicola sent me that features a Canadian subdivision with the streets: This St., That St. & the Other St.
So is this Straight Street, that street?
No, it's the Other Street.
Oh, I thought the Other Street was that street.
No, that street is near This Street.
This Street....or Straight Street?
No, the Other Street.
What other street?
The street near This Street.
But which street is Straight Street?
Oh, that would be were their feet meet!
Oh.... Did you get all that? Anyway, when Ananias laid his hands on him, Saul's sight is re-stored, he's filled with the Holy Spirit, was baptized and then sent out as Jesus' ambassador. That's where we pick up, but as we do, it's easy to get confused as to which street he takes from there, for walking in Paul's footprints, where his feet meet the street, involves a lot of coming and going, and going and coming, and Luke, the author of Acts, leaves some details out!
It would be helpful to have a map to figure it all out. I wonder where we could find such a map..
Calvin: Ok, the map says to turn left at this tree and walk 30 paces.
Hobbes: ...29..., 20. So what's here?
Calvin: My map shows a big hole.
Hobbes: Wouldn't it be faster to make the map conform to the yard?
Calvin: Are you in some sort of hurry? (from It's A Magical World, p. 66)
Okay..., wrong kind of map. Fortunately, many Bible translations today provide various maps, like this one from the New Living Translation. I've added some arrows to help provide clarity, because as noted, Luke leaves out some of Saul's earliest travels. We know this by cross-referencing with the letters he wrote to the early church. He fills in this blank in the very first letter he wrote...:
“I did not initially go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus. After those first three years, I then went to Jerusalem and stayed with Peter for fifteen days...” (Galatians 1:17-18)
So there's a missing piece in Luke's travel log – Saul's trip to Arabia – hinted at in Acts 9:23, with the words, “After a while...”, a phrase that often indicates a significant passage of time. The verse reads, “After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. They were watching for him day and night at the city gate.” (Acts 2:23-24) Why were they watching for him there? Either to catch him returning from Arabia, or having snuck in, to keep him from escaping.
Back to the map. Saul traveled from Jerusalem to Damascus and met Jesus along the way. Having been straightened out on Straight Street, he heads into Arabia, then, after 3 years, he returns to Damascus, where, escaping in a basket,he flees to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James. Having triggered an adverse reaction there to his preaching, he flees to Caesarea, and from there to his hometown in Tarsus, where some time later, Barnabas shows up to bring Saul down to join the church in Antioch.
This section in Acts, though, is no mere travel log. It reads more like an action novel. It could be titled, “The Adventures of Peter and Paul”, as Luke bounces back and forth between the two. There are back to back plots to murder Saul in Damascus and then in Jerusalem, the first of which includes Saul's harrowing escape through a gap in the city wall inside a basket in the dead of night. Paul's refer-ence to that event in his Corinthian letters reveals what a basket case he was after that!
“I'd rather tell you about the things that show how weak I am...! In Damascus...I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape King Aretas!” (2 Corinthians 11:33)
Luke follows that up with a story of Peter raising a young woman from the dead, and then of a powerful second Pentecost event in which a Roman...and his household are all filled with the Spirit!
Then Luke bounces back to tell about the birth of the church in Antioch, and how “the power of the Lord was with them!” (Acts 11:21) It was a historic moment as we're told that “it was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.” (Acts 11:26)
Luke then bounces back to tell how of Peter's great prison escape, in which he is led by an angel “past the first and second guard posts, and as they approached the iron gate, it opened by itself...!”
This is the last we're told of Peter as the stage is now set, for Saul to be unleashed from Antioch, where after a year of inspired teaching and preaching, a prayer meeting is called among the leaders of the church: “Barnabas, Simeon the Niger, (“the black man”), Lucius from Cyrene, Manean, a child-hood friend of King Herod Antipas, and Saul”. (Acts 13:1) It's quite the electic group. Barnabas is mentioned first, indicating he is the church's primary leader. He's first mentioned back in chapter four.
After a prayer meeting in Jerusalem in which Peter and John and the other believers were all filled with the Holy Spirit, one of them, a man “from the tribe of Levi, who came from the island of Cyprus, sold his property and brought the money to the apostles. His name was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas, (which means 'Son of Encouragement').” (Acts 4:36-37)
Second in the list is Simeon, a man of color from Africa. Third, is Lucius, a Roman name who originates from Cyrene, a Roman provence. Fourth is Manean, a member of the royal household of Judea, and fifth, and last, Saul, a former pharisees. We're given their names to show how diverse this church in Antioch already was! As they pray and fast and worship together the Spirit moves among them to reveal God's next move – to send Barnabas and Saul into the mission field.
Note who's ultimately in charge here, not only of the church in Antioch, but of this sending out to evangelize across the Roman empire - “Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit!”
They are joined by another key Kingdom player, who joins them once they reach Salamis, the nearest port on the Island of Cyprus. His name is John Mark. Most biblical scholars believe this to be none other than the author of the Gospel of Mark. The three of them make their way across Cyprus, “traveling from town to town across the entire island...preaching the Word of God...” (Acts 13:23)
But wait a minute! Did I miss something? Paul is considered the greatest missionary of all time. He planted churches all over Asia Minor and the ancient Roman empire. He authored over two-thirds of the New Testament. Isn't Luke forgetting something here?
I went back and checked. Sure enough, up to this point, there's not a single convert. We've been told repeatedly about Saul's bold and powerful preaching but not once has Luke mentioned anyone agreeing with him or joining the ranks of the Way! Luke simply states that “all who heard him were amazed!” (Acts 9:20-21) Amazed but noone believed or was baptized.
Throughout the Book of Acts, Luke never hesitates to tell us when people come to faith, are filled with the Holy Spirit, or are baptized in Jesus' name. But not once until to the conversion of Governor Sergius Paulus in Paphos, on the far side of Cyrpus, do we hear those familiar words, “he became a believer”! (Acts 13:12) It's been 10-12 years since Saul's first sermon in that Damascus synagogue! It makes one wonder why he was chosen to accompany Barnabas in the first place...!
So what do you make of that? Was Saul initially a failure? Not from God's perspective! As Jesus revealed to him: “You are my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to rulers and to the people of Israel!” (Acts 9:15) Notice that Jesus doesn't hold Paul accountable for how people respond. His mission isn't to change people – that's God's job, the work of his powerful and life-giving Spirit. Paul's success was not determined by how many converts he made but by his being obedient to his being called to be sent, and his perseverance and refusal to give up. So it is with us as well. We succeed by obeying! As Jesus articulated it in the gospel Paul's assistant would later write: “Go into all the world and share the Good News to everyone!” (Mark 16:15)
So we go...and share, in word and deed! From Paul we learn to not give up. Some will respond like Elymas of Paphos, with scepticism and by trying to hinder those in their circle of influence from believing... Others will respond like Governor Paulus, who, “when he saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.” (Acts 13:12)
Notice how he came to faith. It was a combination of his seeing the power of the Holy Spirit at work and his hearing that this power was that of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. It's what John Winber calls, 'power evangelism'. We access that power through faith and prayer! It's why we, like Peter and Paul and Barnabas, need to continually seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not for the sake of the manifestations of the Spirit, but for the sake that by whatever means possible, we may save a few.
As Jesus commanded and promised: “Go into all the world and share the Good News with everyone..., and miraculous signs will accompany those who believe. They will cast out demons in my name, speak in new languages...and will place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed!”
That's what we're called to do, for we too are called to be sent, to do what Jesus did, what Peter and Paul and Barnabas did, for we are Christians, Christ-followers, following his lead, as he leads us by his living Spirit – just as “Barnabas and (Paul) were sent out by the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 13:4)