Summary: (or, Bad politicians, terrorists and false prophets)
(or, “Bad Politicians, Terrorists and False Prophets”)
I’ve chosen a rather long portion of scripture to preach from, but I do not intend to do an expository study of these 41 verses today, so you can rest assured that this will, eventually, come to a close.
What I want to do is take these three men, one mentioned rather briefly and the other two a little more significantly, and put them under the glass for just a little while, and see what sort of threat or hardship each of them represented to the early church. We might also get some helpful application out of their stories for ourselves personally and the present day church as the body of Christ in the world.
THE HISTORICAL SETTING
Let’s just get a brief overview of events covered in previous chapters, leading up to this period in the development of the early church.
First we see Saul, the Pharisee, going about drooling threats against the followers of this Jesus the Nazarene, persecuting many even to death. He is confronted by Jesus on his way to Damascus and brought into the faith, and set to the work of ministry.
As a result there follows a period of peace and increase in the church throughout Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
As soon as Luke announces this momentous change in circumstances he turns to the ministry of Peter and we don’t hear from Saul/Paul for a few chapters.
Peter, in his travels, goes to Lydda where through him the Lord heals Aeneas, then the folks in nearby Joppa call for Peter because their beloved Tabitha has died. Peter goes there and prays for this faithful disciple who is then raised from the dead. As a result of these two miracles the entire plane of Sharon is converted to Christ.
Peter takes a little rest there, and we won’t comment on that further because Luke did not. All we know is that Peter stayed ‘many days’ in Joppa at Simon’s house, and one day, as he was praying on the rooftop of this house near the sea (10:6), he receives a vision from the Lord that calls him to Caesarea, which is about 35 miles north on the coastline of the Mediterranean, to minister to a gentile; a Roman centurion in fact, and his family.
He goes there in obedience to the call and as he preaches the gospel this Centurion, Cornelius, and his family all receive the Holy Spirit. Peter goes back to Jerusalem where he is under some criticism for going to this gentile family, until he tells the whole story and the other Jewish believers who are listening quiet down and agree that this must be of God, that He “…has granted to the gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (11:18)
Brief note: Please observe that the early believers understood as a given that repentance was the first step toward conversion and life. When the need for repentance from sin is left out of the modern pulpit and the witness of the modern evangelist the message of the gospel is effectively neutered.
The ice is officially broken now, in a big way. God has led His man not only to a Gentile, but a Roman centurion, and brought him and his entire family into the fold. It has caused a stir among the Jerusalem believers, meaning, the Apostles and other leaders, and they have accepted that God has offered this salvation to the nations and not just the Jewish people.
So Barnabas goes to Antioch where the gospel is now being widely preached to gentiles, rejoices at what he sees going on there, encourages them, and heads out for Tarsus to find Saul, brings him back to Antioch, and the two of them spend the next year teaching and preaching and the church thrives.
So here is the setting. The church is at relative peace. It’s been a while since the stoning of Stephen, Saul has been converted and is preaching boldly in his own mega-church in Antioch, and the church is turning missional.
“Hey! This isn’t just for us locals! God has shown us that the gospel message is for all people everywhere. So we need to do some dreamweaving. We need to find ways to penetrate pockets of lostness all around the Mediterranean. We need to think in terms of total saturation and resourcing and a Partnership Missions program for more effective outreach.”
The problem, whether they were individually or corporately conscious of it or not, was that they were going to run up against opposition, in the form of bad politicians, terrorists and false prophets.
Let’s take an historical look back at these three men brought to the forefront by Luke in these next couple of chapters of Acts and see what we can find that is helpful to us today.