Tag Archives: Antioch

Remove the Yoke! ~ Acts 15:1-41

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. ~ Acts 15:5-6

Upon arriving back in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were advised that some of the Pharisaic Jewish believers still questioned the validity of Gentile salvation through the Messiah. They felt that Gentile believers must first obey the Law as handed down by Moses and be circumcised before they could be accepted into the church. The Pharisees are known for their legalism, so this comes really as no surprise.

English: Strongmen event: the Yoke Walk or the...

English: Strongmen event: the Yoke Walk or the Heavy Yoke or the Super Yoke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to address this question with church elders. Peter reminds the brethren that God has given the gift of the Holy Spirit to Gentile believers, just as He has to Jewish believers. He continues, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (15:10-11) James, citing Old Testament prophecy, validates Peter’s position. The decision is reached not to hold Gentile believers to a legalistic, law-based set of rules as proposed by the Pharisaic Jews; rather, to direct them to follow these precepts for living, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (15:19-20). A letter is written and sent with messengers to be shared with Gentile believers. “The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.” (15:31)

Even today, there are some in the church who seek to burden we believers with complicated rules. To be clear, we are to glorify God in the way we live our lives, but when legalistic preaching and teaching supplants the Gospel it’s time to reexamine our priorities. That’s exactly what the brethren did in this passage. The Law cannot save us; only the Savior can do that. Let us go forth and celebrate our freedom from sin and death by sharing the Gospel with those still living under the yoke of sin.

Ponder this: Am I overburdened with rules to the point at which I forget the Gospel?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of your Law, for through the Law I see clearly my need for a Savior. Thank you also for the gift of faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, through whom my transgressions are forgiven. Let my living be a witness to You today and every day. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

Joy in Persecution ~ Acts 13:13-52

But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. ~ Acts 13:50

The Apostles preaching the Gospel

The Apostles preaching the Gospel (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Paul and Barnabas continue on their journey and the Holy Spirit leads them to Antioch. Here, Paul is invited to speak in the synagogue on the Sabbath, a common event (inviting a guest rabbi to speak) in those days. Paul beautifully presents the Gospel, and the response was so great that he was invited to speak the following week. This time, almost the entire town showed up, both Jews and Gentiles. Upon seeing the positive response from the crowd, the Jewish leaders became jealous and reprimanded Paul for his message. Sound familiar? Paul boldly tells them “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 has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:46-47). Upon hearing this, the Gentiles were filled with joy and “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (13:48b).

Throughout the book of Acts, we see this pattern: As the Gospel spreads through Jewish and Gentile populations, persecution almost always follows. You see, the Gospel rightfully shifts the focus of the believer from the supposed greatness of human leaders to the power and might of Almighty God. In this passage, the Jewish leaders succumb to the siren call of their egos to the point of stirring up persecution against the very men they had invited to speak! As a result, many come to faith as the apostles are expelled from the region.

Even today we see this phenomenon. Believers who speak God’s Truth in America are often called unthinking, narrow-minded, old fashioned, and many other derogatory names – by believers and non-believers alike. In many parts of the world, Christians bold enough to share the Gospel are persecuted to the point of death. We humans want to be in charge, we want power and position; we want to be subordinate to nobody. When our testimony yields such persecution we should take heart and rejoice, just as the apostles did. For such persecution means our witness is having impact on our world. And with that, we should be encouraged and press on towards the goal of sharing the Gospel with all who so desperately need to hear it.

Ponder this: Have I ever been persecuted for sharing the Gospel? What is my response?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, strengthen me to share your Word with this dying world. Help me to rejoice and take encouragement when persecution comes my way. May I always serve You first. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Why Church? ~ Acts 11:19-30

The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. ~ Acts 11:21

The church at Antioch now becomes a focal point, along with the church at Jerusalem. Paul (still called “Saul”) and Barnabas spent much time there, preaching the Gospel to the Gentile population who converted in great numbers. We are told it is here that Jesus’ followers were first named “Christians”.

I am struck by the purity and sincerity of the apostles’ faith. Acting with sincere hearts under the clear guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church grew; not because of booming sound systems or feel-good sermons, not because of creative marketing committees or gimmicky social events. The church grew because the apostles presented the Gospel openly, honestly, and truthfully. The Gospel, and only the Gospel, is the message this dying world is so hungry to hear!

Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church (Photo credit: Seiya234)

Our churches today must take a lesson from the early church. The church is not to “fit in” to society politically, popularly, or socially. Sadly, many modern churches, including some large denominations and independent churches, have fallen into this trap so craftily laid by the evil one. Indeed, the church is to preach God’s Word so that believers are equipped to nurture one another, lovingly hold one another accountable, and effectively witnesses to those who need to know Christ.

Ponder this: Does your church stand firmly on God’s Word, or has it succumbed to societal pressure to conform with societal values? Are you willing to stand firmly on the Truth?

My prayer for today: Father, I pray today for Your church. Strengthen and bless those church bodies that faithfully stand on Your Word and preach Your Gospel. Convict those that have succumbed to the temptation to please society and guide them back to the narrow road of your good and perfect will. Give me the tools to lovingly witness to those who need to know our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray in His name. AMEN.

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