Posted by: lepages | June 15, 2010

On a mission!

This was my preach from Sunday at church – part of a series we’re doing looking at the life of the Apostle Paul through Acts – this was unusual as I ‘became’ Saul (Paul) for most of my preach time! You can listen to the preach and surrounding ones in the series from the Rutland Road Church website download page.

“On a Mission”
Acts 13 & 14

Introduction
Well, its a while since we’ve had someone step through the time worm hole.

Or take a trip in the Tardis,

but I had a feeling it would be good to hear today from Saul in person (we know him as Paul) – so, with no expenses spared he will appear to my left in just a few moments, and I’ll step back from preaching for today!

(step into role)

Good morning everyone. My name is Saul – you probably know me as Paul, from my writings.

Thank you for this invitation to come and share on the theme ‘On a Mission’ I want to share with you on a personal level some of the events in terms of mission which I had the privilege of sharing in a long time ago. If you’d like to follow a written record of what was going on, my good friend Dr. Luke has recorded a good record of events in the book in your Bibles known as Acts – and the time I wanted to cover today is recorded in chapters 13 & 14 of Acts – which I’m told you can find starting on page 1107 of those blue church Bibles. They’re a brilliant idea by the way – we didn’t have that privilege back in my time – we were fortunate to receive occasional letters from the various apostles, which would be read to us at church gatherings, along with perhaps some readings from the Jewish scriptures where we were able to locate them. As well as that of course, we also received words from the prophets and teachers God had raised up amongst us.

I want to take you back to one such occasion.

At that time I was in the church at Antioch.

It was a great place to be. God had raised up some significant leaders in the church, prophets and teachers, from all sections of society – there was Barnabas who had come from Cyprus, Simeon who was a black African, Lucius from Cyrene – that’s in your modern day Libya. Then we had Manaen, who had Jewish royal connections, having grown up with Herod Antipas – and finally myself, Saul, from Tarsus, in what you now call Turkey.

Antioch, like your town here I understand, was a city characterised by ethnic and cultural diversity. It was a delight that the gospel had brought salvation to such a wide range of people, and that God had raised up leaders to reflect that diversity – a wonderful reminder that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

One day we had gathered to worship. We had chosen to fast to help us focus our hearts and minds on the Lord and to give us more time to worship him. (You might like to do that some time – I can thoroughly recommend it – I remember hearing from some of the other apostles in Jerusalem that the Lord Jesus once said ‘When you fast…’ so I guess he assumed we would fast from time to time.)

We were fasting and we were worshipping the Lord together when the Holy Spirit spoke to us and said “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

We were stunned when those words were uttered in our gathering, affirming what we had already felt stirring in our hearts, unknown to others in the church at that time. Well, that was it we knew that we had been called to go on a mission, sharing the good news about Jesus over a wide area. There was freedom to travel at that time, courtesy of the Roman Empire, much as there is freedom for you to travel and relocate courtesy of your European Union.

So after we’d spent some time praying into what lay ahead we set off. We headed down to the coast to Seleucia

and got a sailing from there across to Cyprus.

We thought it good to start off in familiar territory with Barnabas having connections in the island.

We arrived in Salamis a truly beautiful city with a magnificent theatre seating 15000 people.

We sought out the Jewish synagogues and proclaimed the word of God there. John Mark had come with us as a helper and it was good to have another pair of hands and to help him learn the value of mission on the job. Always take the opportunity to invest in others whenever you can.

We travelled across Cyprus sharing the gospel as we had opportunity,

eventually arriving on the West of the island at Paphos.

Whilst we were there we came into contact with a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet, by the name of Bar-Jesus! How dare he even take that name on his lips given his history! BUT… always make the most of every opportunity – you never know where it may lead. It turned out that this man was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, the Roman Governor of the region.

Word of us and our activities must have been fed to the Governor as a result of our conversation with Bar-Jesus and we were summoned before the Governor, because he wanted to hear the word of God, the message we had been proclaiming. Never reject an opportunity to share your faith – no matter how unlikely it seems – you don’t know where it may lead. If we hadn’t talked with that sorcerer, we might never have got to speak with the proconsul!

Well, we shared the message of good news about Jesus, of his sacrifice on the cross, of his rising to life again and of his salvation which he now offers to all who will believe in him, with the Governor, but Bar-Jesus, Elymas as he called himself – the wise one, sought to throw anything he could in to distract Sergius Paulus from putting his faith in Jesus. As he did this I was just aware of the Holy Spirit coming upon me and filling me afresh, stirring my spirit. I turned and looked straight at Elymas and said:-

“You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.”

Some times its right to speak out boldly, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

God is powerful and he can change things. I know!

You heard last week, I understand, of how I was blinded when I first met with Jesus, having previously, like Elymas, opposed everything that was said about him. And Jesus changed me, like he can change you. I don’t know whether Elymas ever yielded his life to Jesus or not.
But the proconsul certainly did.

Even as I spoke to Elymas mist and darkness came over him, and he started groping about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand – I remember well being led into Damascus in the same way myself, being blinded for 3 days, until Ananias came and laid his hands on me and restored my sight through the mighty name of Jesus.

When the proconsul saw what happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

You know, if the Holy Spirit prompts you to do or to say something, even things you don’t expect, act on what he says – you too may be amazed at the consequences, and it may be the means of moving the Kingdom of God forward in people’s lives and in a community.

Well, from Paphos, we set sail again – heading over to Perga, the capital of Pamphylia – another stunning city, in the Antalya province of Turkey as you now call it.

I was disappointed there to lose John Mark, who left us and returned to Jerusalem. At the time I felt that he had failed us and this was some time later to cause real tensions between me and Barnabas….. but I came to value him in the end, even if I perhaps spoke abusively about him at the time. Some times people need to grow and develop in their faith and they may not meet the expectations of those who are mature. Perhaps we had taken him in too deep, too quick and it was too much of a challenge for him at his level of maturity…..

From Perga we travelled inland to Pisidian Antioch.

We knew there was a sizeable Jewish population located there and wanted to share the gospel with those who were firmly rooted in the Scriptures. When we engage in mission its good to think strategically about where we go and what we do to have the greatest impact over a region – we chose significant cities – and made sure we targeted differing people groups too.

On the Sabbath we entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to us,

“Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.”

Well, of course we were glad to do so. I stood up, and addressed them all – making sure they all felt included as I drew their attention “Men of Israel, and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!”

And then I began where they were. I related some of the history of God’s people, the people of Israel – things they were familiar with and valued highly. I led on to talk about the King whom they honoured and looked to as a noble ancestor, King David, the man of whom God said:-

“I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”

I was then able to speak about how his descendant Jesus had been raised up as the promised Saviour, of his cousin John and of his calling the people of Israel to repentance and baptism, and of how Jesus ended up being executed and then how God raised him to life again and how he appeared to many people who now witness to this amazing fact.

I then pointed them to Scripture and explained how Jesus fulfilled so much that was written in there.

There is something really valuable for you to note here – when you share the faith do it in a way appropriate to the audience you are speaking with! If you’re talking with folk who have some sort of Christian background, who’ve perhaps been to church you can build on what they already know – likewise those of other faith backgrounds, you can start where they are and take them to Jesus. But when you talk with folk who don’t have those backgrounds you may have to start where they are and help them understand basic facts about God and his existence to begin with.

Back to our account of our time in Pisidian Antioch.

As we left the synagogue after the service was completed, we were invited to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath, but in truth our opportunity to share the good news continued in personal conversation after we left, with a good number of Jews and Gentile converts following us and talking further with us.

Those conversations, and what we shared in the synagogue were obviously the talk of the town, because as we came to time for worship at the synagogue on the next Sabbath day there were huge crowds of people gathering to hear the word of the Lord, some estimated that it was almost the whole of the city who had gathered!

But when the Jewish leaders saw this they were jealous and started talking abusively against what we were sharing. It was a very tense, and very exciting time. We knew that there was no point arguing with those who just wanted to put us down, but should give our time to those who truly wanted to know more of this glorious good news. So we answered them boldly:-

“We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord commanded us: ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Well, when the Gentiles heard us say that, they were glad – it was fantastic for them to feel included by God rather than second class citizens – God doesn’t see any people as second class – he wants to include all who will turn from their sin and put their faith and trust in Jesus. Many honoured the word of the Lord which had been spoken and those whom God had chosen came to believe. In fact the word of the Lord spread through the whole region as people shared the glorious news about Jesus and his salvation, as they shared the glorious news of what he had done in their lives.

The Jews though stirred up loads of trouble for us, outright persecution arose and we were expelled from the region. We symbolically shook the dust of our feet in protest at them, our way of saying you don’t intimidate us, we just shake you off and get on with what we’re called to.

There may be times when you have to do the same. People have a go at you about your faith and you just have to shake it off and say ‘Oh well, your loss’ and head on to share with others.

We did this, and headed off to Iconium.

Meanwhile, the disciples in Pisidian Antioch and the surrounding region enjoyed a wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they were filled with great joy, rejoicing in their Lord and Saviour and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, who brought power to them to be witnesses to all that the Lord Jesus had done and was doing in their lives, and who did many miracles to demonstrate his power and presence in our lives.

My time is almost gone. There’s much more I could tell you about the events of that first time out on a mission. It was an exciting time and an unnerving time. Persecution followed us from city to city, but the grace of God was with us. We saw many miracles take place as the Holy Spirit worked amongst us and the greatest miracle of all was that so many people found new life in Jesus and became his disciples. You can read about these events in chapter 14 of your book of Acts – and I’d encourage you to do so – they make thrilling reading! The persecution got so bad that instead of just abusive comments and physically removing us from cities stones were taken up and thrown at us. I ended up unconscious on the floor, and they dragged my body out of the city thinking I was dead, but as the brothers gathered round me, I came to, and we went back into the city for the night.

We left the next day for the city of Derbe

and once again saw many come to faith and become disciples of the Lord Jesus.

From there we travelled back through many of the cities we had been to previously

– taking the time to strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith.

We said on many occasions “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

And this is a reality – if we are to see the kingdom of God extended it will not always be easy sailing and we will have to face tough times. If you want to see God’s kingdom extended here – and I hope you do…. – then you will have to be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone…. and it may not always bring the response you hope for… but when you do, then you will know what it is to be filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit as you see him at work amongst you.

As we went back to each of the churches we had established we appointed elders to oversee and care for them. Many of these were young in the faith but had a heart for God and we knew that we could trust them to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, being conscious that we would support them as we were able. Be on the look out yourselves for those whom you might appoint to leadership for the future.

We sailed back to Antioch, where we had been committed to the grace of God for the work we had now completed – and it was with great joy that we were able to share with the church there what God had been doing. Can I encourage you, as I close, to share with others what God is doing in and through your lives? It builds faith, and encourages others to step out. Share things as an encouragement to worship as you gather on a Sunday, share as you gather in your homes at other times, share as you meet in any way.

Thank you for inviting me to share with you from my experience of being on a mission.

Conclusion
(Step out of role)
Well, its been good to have Saul with us this morning. I’m not sure how well I’ve represented everything he said/felt/did/shared in, but I hope that in getting into the narrative and character that maybe its encouraged us to grow in our calling to be on a mission, and what that might or might not mean for us. God bless. I’ll hand back to Paul and Julie to lead us on in our worship now.

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