Acts 13:1-3, 44-52
Sometimes you just need to get away, don’t you? Sheryl & I are about to head out for a week of vacation. There’s something magical about time away.
Now, I’m not talking about one of those vacations where you are on the move nonstop & everything is more work than relaxation. We’ve all probably experienced vacations where we came home more exhausted than when we left. I used to be an expert in those kinds of trips.
What we all really need is a break from the routine. Something that helps us refresh our body & spirit. Something that refocuses our mind & emotions. Doesn’t that sound inviting?
Well, here is the good news: 2 of the most powerful ways to do that – to regain focus – don’t even require leaving town! Prayer & fasting can be done right where you are, & they can revitalize you & lead you to fix your attention on the parts of your life that are truly important. In Acts 13, we see this principle at work in the church at Antioch. They prayed. They fasted. And God did something incredible in their midst.
< Acts 13:1-3 >
The church in Antioch is a great example of believers who loved Jesus & reflected that love in their ministry to people. They gladly shared the gospel with anyone – even Gentiles! Up to that time, Christianity was considered an extension of Jewish beliefs. After all, Jesus said he had come to fulfill everything the Jews believed. Therefore, Jews who became Christians naturally went to other Jews to share the gospel.
In Antioch, however, believers began to realize the message of Christ benefited all people. They spread that message among the Gentiles, & the Lord’s power was with them, & a large number came to believe & turned to the Lord. With that the church in Antioch caught a passion for the mission.
When we come to Acts 13, the Christians in Antioch were worshiping the Lord & fasting. Many scholars believe this time of worship, prayer, & fasting was undertaken with a specific goal in mind. The church had a heart for evangelism & outreach, but how were they to proceed? What were they supposed to do? Instead of coming up with a plan that seemed best to them, the Christians at Antioch stopped. They prayed & fasted. They fixed their hearts completely on God.
And God responded! When the church’s full & undivided attention was on the Lord, the Holy Spirit answered & offered direction. Specifically, the Spirit said: Appoint Barnabas & Saul to the work I have called them to undertake. This was a critically important moment in the early stages of Christianity. The church at Antioch had gotten serious before God, & they were about to get serious about the Great Commission – found in Matt. 28:19-20: Go & make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve [J] commanded you.
< Acts 13:44-46 >
Saul (now known as the apostle Paul) & Barnabas first headed to the island of Cyprus. After going through the whole island, they crossed over to the Roman province of Asia & came to a place known as Antioch in Pisidia. They entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day, & Paul spoke to those gathered there. He preached about the connection between God’s work in the OT & his work through Jesus. Many responded positively to the gospel message. When the people in the synagogue were dismissed, many Jews & devout converts to Judaism accompanied Paul & Barnabas, who urged them to remain faithful to the message of God’s grace.
Not everybody was enthusiastic about Paul’s preaching, however. When just about all the people in the city showed up the next Sabbath day to hear Paul preach about Jesus, some of the Jews were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him.
This is a reality: whenever God is working, we can fully expect Satan to fight against that work. Ephesians 6:12: We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, & spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Satan will do everything in his power to stop the church from praying & advancing the gospel.
Unfortunately, Satan sometimes succeeds in his efforts. We have all heard of churches undone by disunity, gossip, immorality, & myriad other sins. Satan prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour. Churches that fall prey to Satan’s attacks don’t resist him & stand firm. Instead, they cease to be praying churches, centered on the gospel & fixed solely on Christ.
Yet when Satan raises his ugly head even today, we must continue to march on. We must not back down from our call to the Great Commission. Paul & Barnabas didn’t. They didn’t soften their message one bit. If anything, they became even bolder in their approach. What an example for us!
The missionary Amy Carmichael, in a poem, asked, “Can we follow the Savior far, who have no wound or scar?”
< Acts 13:47-52 >
In spite of Satan’s efforts, Jesus still does amazing things among his people. The Jews may have rejected the gospel, but the Gentiles responded joyfully with open & ready hearts. They rejoiced & glorified God. Many believed & were saved. In spite of opposition & even persecution, the word of the Lord continued to spread throughout the whole region.
Persecution cannot stop the gospel from spreading. In fact, many times it does just the opposite. It’s like different people I have known who try to get a campfire started ‘the old-fashioned way.’ I have seen them spend hours striking a flint or rubbing sticks together with no results. Sooner or later someone brings over a can of gasoline, & then – whoosh! The fire has a sudden & fierce awakening!
Persecution can be like that gasoline. It can cause an explosive spread of the gospel. Missionaries often speak about amazing ministry opportunities in places of intense persecution – places where God is doing great work.
How did Paul & Barnabas respond to persecution? They went right on preaching. They went to the next city & strolled into the synagogue. They kept up the same routine throughout the Book of Acts – proclaiming the gospel, harvesting spiritual fruit, undergoing persecution, & then moving someplace new to proclaim the gospel once again.
Don’t lose sight of what God was doing. The Gentile believers rejoiced in God’s salvation. These new disciples were overflowing with happiness… because of the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit, which surely brought joy to Paul & Barnabas as well. As Paul wrote later to a different group of Gentiles in Philippi: I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, & it’s always a prayer full of joy. We can find no greater joy than walking in the Spirit while being obedient to the call of God.
How will you obey God’s call to fulfill the Great Commission? We can do it through the following:
Pray for the lost every day. Pray – by name – for someone in your life who needs the message of Christ. Pray for the gospel to advance in our community & all around the world.
Share the gospel. Spreading the gospel isn’t just for preachers & pastors. It isn’t hard. It really isn’t that scary. It is simply a matter of sharing your own story. This week, tell someone else what having Christ in your life has done for you, then invite them to experience that same grace. Actively seek out opportunities to share the good news of Christ.
Lead a faith-sharing mission. You can form a group to proclaim the gospel in a tangible, practical way right here in Reeds. Start with prayer & move out from there. On Saturday, 11/10, I am inviting all of us to “pray the streets” here in Reeds. More information will be coming soon, so save the date now!
Through these 3 steps, we can all begin to live out the Great Commission as we state it here at Shiloh: ‘Creating places where everyone can see, feel, & experience the love of God & be transformed.’ But it is a choice each of us must make. And it is a choice that all of us must make.
We have seen what we can accomplish in our own lives & in our church. Now it is time to see what God can accomplish. And there is no better way to start than through fasting & prayer.