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#carmelprays – Acts 13:13-52

Opening Song: O Great God

Read Scripture: Acts 13:13-52

Following the dramatic conversion of Sergius Paulus, the Governor of Cyprus, this passage is a turning point for Paul. In this precedence setting conversion, it is likely that Paul sees glimpses of what a missionary journey to Gentiles could look like. So significant is this event that Luke suddenly ceases to use the name Saul and begin to use the name Paul, which was Saul’s Roman name, perhaps to accentuate that from this point forth, God will use Paul in mainly Gentile evangelism. In vs 13, they continue on to an insignificant town of Perga, on the southern coast of Turkey with the throw-away line that “John (Mark) left them to return to Jerusalem”. We’re not sure of the exact reasons for the departure, but we do know from Acts 15:37-39 that Paul and John Mark had a falling out. Several reasons have been postulated. Most likely, he was concerned about the effect of direct mission to Gentiles and felt the need to consult the mother Church in Jerusalem. (You could almost imagine the whisperings in Jerusalem – “Goodness gracious me, what on earth is that Paul and Barnabas up to? Preaching the Gospel to Gentiles and allowing them to be part of Jesus’ salvation plan?”). Perhaps John Mark resented Paul’s leadership over his cousin Barnabas, or more benignly he was just homesick, or unable to endure hardship. Paul says later he “deserted” them. Whatever the reason, we know from Acts 15 that the disagreement was bad enough that Paul did not want to take John Mark with him on his second missionary journey.

As an application, when we are engaged in God’s work, it is not uncommon to have fundamental disagreements with other Christian leaders, even if they are Godly ones and especially if they are strong headed, Type-A Christians. What is needed here is humility and a willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction. Paul eventually reconciled with John Mark (2 Tim 4:11), but this was much later and I suspect this was a negative instance of Christian partnership.

The remaining two then moved further north into Turkey, on to Pisidian Antioch (not to be confused with the more well-known Antioch in Syria), a city 100 miles from Perga, on a lake-studded plateau 3,600 ft above sea level. It was the most important city in the Galatia region and apparently had a sizeable Jewish population. His missionary sermon in the synagogue is the first of three recorded in Acts. He begins with the redemptive history of Abraham to David and using the genealogical line, springboards on to Jesus, who is “from this man’s descendants”. This pattern of preaching is typical of early efforts to reach Jews, connecting Old Testament passages with fulfilment in Jesus.

The results of his preaching met with a variety of responses; only some invited their itinerant preacher to come back next Sabbath to preach again. More likely the Jewish authorities took a dimmer view of Paul’s message, but “many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism” wanted to hear more and Paul and Barnabas “persuaded” (NIV translates “urged”) them to continue in the grace of God, suggesting that some came to faith. Next Sabbath, news of Paul and Barnabas spread throughout the whole city and they had a huge turnout – “almost the whole city”. An interesting turn of events takes place here – “when the Jews saw the crowds”, their initial interest turned to antagonism. Not only was the synagogue being flooded by Gentiles as though it were a common theatre, but it was becoming clear to them that Paul and Barnabas was ready to speak directly to Gentiles without first relating them in some way to Judaism. The same inward-looking, anti-Gentile prejudice rears its head again. So in their opposition, they “blasphemed” (NIV translates “heaped abuse”). Paul and Barnabas mount their defence of their policy of “to the Jews” first, but also to the Gentiles. Interestingly, the Gentiles responded with gladness and “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (v48).

Luke adds a postscript to the ministry at Pisidian Antioch, by describing the spread of the Gospel “through the whole region”; very likely by the new converts themselves as Paul and Barnabas are soon expelled from the region, shaking the dust off their feet. Most importantly, they are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

As an application, again we see, the Holy Spirit plays a central role in conversion in any efforts to proclaim God’s word. We must hold on to that simple truth when speaking to an unbeliever about the Gospel. Our job is to proclaim and persuade, the Holy Spirit’s job is to bring about conversion. We can never do the latter and so should not be discouraged by a lack of response.

Pray in Response

Lord help us today to always look to You for the direction we should take. We pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us today and not be afraid to speak the message to our friends, even when responses are mixed. We remember the unfortunate episode of John Mark, and ask that You would protect the Christian partnerships Mt Carmel has throughout the region. Help us to listen with understanding, always guided by the Holy Spirit and not man’s agenda. Amen.

Response Song: By Faith

By Loh Pin Chuan

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