Tag Archives: Barnabas

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.

Equipped to Witness ~ Acts 14:21-28

Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. ~ Acts 14:21b-22

As Paul and Barnabas’ visit to Lystra concluded, we are told how some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came and won the crowd over against Paul. They stoned Paul and, thinking him dead, dragged him out of the city. Interestingly, “after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” (14:20) God still had work for Paul to do.

The visit to Derbe is mentioned only in verse 21. Then Paul and Barnabas backtrack through the cities they have visited, including Lystra, Iconium and Antioch where Paul had been stoned (Lystra) and where Paul and Barnabas had been persecuted. The purpose of the return visits was to “strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith” (v22). They appointed elders for the churches and then returned to Antioch where they “reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” (v 27)

Witnessing with Fortitude

Witnessing with Fortitude (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

The church is about winning people to Christ; but it is primarily about strengthening, nurturing, and encouraging those who already believe. God works through the church to equip us believers for Kingdom work; to go out into the world as the Holy Spirit would guide us and allow God to work through us to win the lost to Christ. The church is not premised on “If we build it the unsaved will come,” paraphrasing a line from the movie Field of Dreams. Rather, the church is premised on God’s desire that modern-day apostles go forth from the church to seek and save the lost according to His will.

We modern-day apostles can learn much from Paul and Barnabas. Their message hit home with people; it hit home so strongly that many persecuted them for their determination to stand firmly upon God’s Word. Faced with such severe persecution, they did not give up; they pressed on. This was not of their own accord, but of the Holy Spirit. Paul later wrote these words in his letter to the Romans:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. ~ Romans 4:3-5

When we speak God’s Truth and face persecution because of it, we must rejoice. God is using us. What an honor and privilege that is!

Ponder this: I must stand firm on God’s Word. When am I most tempted to weaken?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, help me to press on in the face of persecution according to Your good and perfect will. Let me be Your minister of the Gospel and let me be a productive and useful member of Your church. In Jesus’ name – AMEN.

Calling Out False Gods ~ Acts 14:8-20

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. ~ Acts 14:11-12

Paul and Barnabas continued to Lystra and preached there. As in previous stops, their words and miraculous acts were well received and many came to faith. Here, however, some of the people believed that Paul and Barnabas were human manifestations of the gods Zeus and Hermes and sought to offer sacrifices to them to which they replied “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.” (14:15, italics added for emphasis)

We need more witnesses today like Paul and Barnabas: witnesses who speak honestly about the worldly things in which we humans are quick to place our faith and trust; witnesses who preach the Gospel boldly and truthfully while giving praise and glory to the One True God. There are many false gods around today. They come in many forms with many names, and many people stand on those falsehoods as if their very lives depend upon them. You know what? Their lives are at stake. If we believers are not honest with them concerning matters of eternity, who will be?

The chorus of a popular hymn comes to mind:

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

Ponder this: I have Good News to share! With whom would God have me share it?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, this world is filled with things that can so easily distract us from the Gospel. In many cases, these things take Your rightful place in our lives. I want to live for You. Guard and protect me from such temptation, Lord, and help me to speak the Truth in honesty out of love for those who so desperately need to hear it. In Jesus’ name. AMEN

Guide Me, Holy Spirit! ~ Acts 14:1-7

But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders ~ Acts 14:2-3

Directional Signs

Directional Signs (Photo credit: Mykl Roventine)

The pattern of the establishment Jews persecuting believers continues as Paul and Barnabas share the Gospel at Iconium. Here, so many Jews and Gentiles respond that the Jews who refuse to believe begin to “poison the minds” of the Gentiles thus dividing the city. Guided by the Holy Spirit, with their words backed up by signs and wonders, the apostles preach on as more and more people come to faith. Perhaps feeling a bit desperate, a plot is launched to have Paul and Barnabas stoned. They learn of the plot, so they left to preach elsewhere.

Notice the work of the Holy Spirit? Paul and Barnabas are guided to a destination, given powerful words supported by signs and wonders, warned of a plot against their lives, and guided to leave. Through all of that, many Jews and Gentiles come to faith in Jesus Christ. We see no signs of fear on the part of the apostles, although they would have had good reason to be afraid for their lives. Trusting completely in God, they press on.

When we honor God by doing His will in our lives, the Holy Spirit will guide us as well. He will give us a path, He will bless our actions, and He will protect us. A favorite promise from God through the prophet Isaiah comes to mind:

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~ Isaiah 30:20-21

We must seek His voice. He will show us the way He wants us to go, and in seeking and doing His will we will be blessed indeed.

Ponder this: Am I doing what God wants me to do?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, gift me with the Holy Spirit and give me the desire and courage to seek and follow Your will. 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.

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