Today’s Reading: Acts 13:1–15:35
Interesting that the church recognizes that Barnabas and Paul are called to a work for the Lord, and they show fellowship with them (laying on of hands), but the Lord Himself is the One Who directly guides them in their journey of evangelization (their work for Him)!
They quietly proclaim the word of the Lord, and it becomes evident that God is at work in Sergius Paulus. Satan too, has his agent, Elymas, the sorcerer. But Paul has the discernment to confront him, and the Word of God spreads even more quickly! It is good to work with the Lord and see Him overcome Satan’s power. Satan loves to blind people, but here Elymas is blinded by God for hindering His work!
It is easy to turn back like Mark did, and it causes dissension in Barnabas and Paul’s relationship. Perhaps to hinder the work of God was a crime to Paul (the single-minded person who he was), but on the other hand, perhaps Barnabas might well point out how he personally had been gracious to Paul and stuck his neck out for him on more than one occasion! But who knows what the right balance is?
There is something beautiful about Paul’s “sermon” (or Stephen’s “sermon”), they are real master-pieces of God tracing Israel’s history and pointing out that Jesus was the Messiah and that they, the Jews had killed Him, but He rose from the dead again! So Paul challenges them to accept Jesus and believe in Him for justification from their sin! I can well imagine the leaders’ feeling of incredulousness and the seriousness of actually having murdered their Messiah, let alone that He had been resurrected from the dead and then on top of everything that the message is for Jew and Gentile! Although favourably heard out at first, then they reject the message and begin their persecution! Jesus had prayed for forgiveness for them, so they have a second change, and Stephen prays for forgiveness, and they have another chance to hear the message, but this time, under God’s direction, Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles with their message!
And so with miracles on the one hand, and persecution and willingness to worship them as gods on the other hand, but in the next breath stoning Paul to near death, the message takes hold in hearts prepared, for truly as Paul and Barnabas say, “We must through many hardships enter the kingdom of God.” Maybe the report might seem like a failure to some, but through endurance they complete the mission given to them by God (that must have been a good feeling?).
And so the great important question is then carried to Jerusalem about the Gentiles being saved, and James sums up the problem and puts forth the proof that God proved that there is to be no difference between Jew and Gentile, because He gave the Gentiles the Holy Spirit as freely as He did to the Jews! Truly God is no respecter of persons (how dare I show favouritism?!). So “no other burden” is put on the Gentiles from Judaism, except that which is connected with God’s intrinsic holiness! And when this verdict is delivered to Antioch, the center perhaps for the Gentile believers, there was lots of gladness, encouragement and strengthening of the believers. May the same condition exist for us, so that our teaching and preaching of the Word will be unhindered by us and become even more effective!