2020 Vision: Taking the Gospel to the World (Acts 13:1-3)
2020 Vision: Taking the Gospel to the World
In July of 1961, the 38 members of the Green Bay Packers football team were gathered on the first day of training camp. The previous season had ended in a heartbreaking defeat. In the NFL Championship game, the Packers had squandered the lead late in the 4th quarter and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Packers players had been nursing their wounds for several months but now, it was time to get back to work. With a grudge, the players were ready to get back to work and take their game to the next level. Coach Vince Lombardi had an idea.
Lombardi walked into the training camp facility that day, held up a football in his right hand and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” It was time to get back to the basics, back to the fundamentals.
The three dozen players went back to reviewing how to block and how to tackle. Lombardi believed that men could play football so much that they took for granted the basics and started overlooking them. After six months of renewing their focus, the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants in the NFL Championship game, 37-0.
Family, this is God’s Word… The first Sunday of each month, I have been reviewing some fundamentals, challenging us in the year 2020 to focus our vision, to have “2020 Vision” on the fundamentals, the aspects of Christianity that are the most important.
All the prior lessons are on our website if you would like to go back and review them. I am focusing on a dozen things we ought to focus on if we want to be the church of Christ. “The Swartz Creek church of Christ exists, by the blood of Jesus, to share the gospel with the lost, strengthen the weak, encourage the members, and worship God, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We have seen that we need to focus on:
We should honor God.
We should glorify Jesus Christ.
We should follow the Holy Spirit.
We should build up each other.
We need to worship God in spirit and in truth.
We need to reach out into our community.
We need to be united with each other in Christ.
We need to raise our youth to serve Christ.
The focus of our 2020 Vision lesson today is that we need to take the gospel to the world. Acts 13 will serve as our text this morning…
ANTIOCH OF SYRIA:
Antioch of Syria had a population of about 100,000 (McRay, 227, with estimates as many as 300,000), making it one of the largest cities in ancient Rome. It was two miles long and a mile wide, meaning there were about 78.2 people per acre. One acre is 43 1/2’ sq. One scholar recommends subtracting about 40% of the area for streets, temples, public buildings and the density increases to 130 people per acre, which is a greater density of people than Calcutta, India. The main street of Antioch was 30’ wide! It was a large spacious road at that time, paved by Herod with marble.
Antioch of Syria was founded about 300 BC by a Greek (Seleucus) ruler, at a strategic location on the Orontes River with Mount Silpius on the east. In 64 BC, Roman emperors had taken control of the city, made it the capital of the province of Syria and believed it was so important that every time it was destroyed, by earthquakes, fires, or war, it was rebuilt. There was a wide mixture of ethnicities in Antioch of Syria by the time Christianity reached the city.
We don’t have a lot of archaeological finds that date to the NT period. We do know that there was a palace in Antioch and a circus built on an island in the Orontes River. There was also a theater and an amphitheater. Julius Caesar built a basilica in the eastern part of the city, dedicated to the worship of Roman emperors. When we pick up Antioch of Syria in Acts 11, the city was going through considerable construction work and expansion. When Saul of Tarsus arrives, around 43 AD, the city had begun having Olympic-style games.
There were several gods who had a strong presence, through shrines and temples, in Antioch: Zeus, Tyche (female), Artemis and Isis, an Egyptian god. Deified emperors also had a strong presence in the city. The Olympic games always involved Greek and Roman gods.
There was an old and large Jewish community in Antioch. The original Jewish settlers were army veterans. In 40 AD, Emperor Caligula declared himself a god and ordered that his statue be placed in the temple precincts in Jerusalem. The Jews protested but mobs of Romans organized, burned the synagogues in Antioch and murdered large numbers of Jews. Frequently, when the Jews rioted in Jerusalem or Palestine, Jews in other cities, like Antioch, were punished. Yet, the Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Gentiles were often attracted to Jewish worship in Antioch.
The first mention of Antioch of Syria is in Acts 6:5 when deacons were appointed in Jerusalem, one of which was “Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch.” The next occasion we have of Antioch mentioned is in Acts 11:19ff relative to the establishment of the church there. Once Christianity reached Antioch, this city would become the second most-important city as a basis for Christianity and the spread of the Gospel, second only to Jerusalem. Antioch will serve as Paul’s basis of operations for all three mission trips he’ll take.
Some early Christian writers thought Luke, the author of Acts, was from Antioch of Syria.
THE CALL FOR MISSIONARIES - 13:1-3:
The church of Christ at Antioch had many prophets and teachers and Luke gives us the names of five: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger (now “Niger” means black so scholars believe Simeon may have been a black person, perhaps from Africa, Lucius from Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up, perhaps as an adopted brother with Herod the Tetrarch (who reigned from 4 B. C. to 39 A. D.), and Saul of Tarsus
The church of Christ had been established in Antioch back in Acts 11 and the church of Christ in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch because everyone knew and loved Barnabas because he was such an encourager. When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he quickly realized the work was more than he could handle and he went to Tarsus to find Saul and brought him to Antioch to help him evangelize.
The work in Antioch went so well that the church was quickly able to appoint elders and the whole church had such strong confidence in Barnabas and Saul that when a famine hit the church in Jerusalem, Antioch sent financial assistance to Jerusalem through Barnabas and Saul. After some time in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch and they took a young Christian from Jerusalem with them, named John Mark. So, we know John Mark was among the Christians in Antioch.
But then the moment came when God knew it was time to make a concerted effort to share the gospel with the non-Jewish world so the Holy Spirit spoke to someone, a prophet or one of the elders, and told them that the church needed to set aside Barnabas and Saul for a special work. Now, when Saul of Tarsus was baptized by Ananias back in Acts 9, Jesus had told Ananias that Saul was going to carry the name of Jesus to the Gentiles. Now was the time.
This was an important work and the church fasted and prayed God’s blessings on Barnabas and Saul and laid their hands on them and sent them away.
THE FIRST LEG OF THE JOURNEY - 13:4-5:
Verse 4 tells us that this travel was under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led the missionaries to Seleucia. Seleucia was located 5 miles north of the mouth of the Orontes River, on which sat Antioch of Syria. It was a seaport.
From Seleucia, the first Christian mission team (ever) sailed to the island of Cyprus. At one time, our mission team considered moving to Cyprus back in 1994-1995. Cyprus was a place where emeralds, iron, and copper were mined. Our word copper, in fact, comes from the name of Cyprus. Flocks of mountain sheep were kept by herders. She had strong trade relations with Egypt and Greece. For 1,000 years, Cyprus was a major trader on the world stage.
The island of Cyprus is 45 miles south of Asia Minor, 60 miles west of Syria. It is 138 miles long and 60 miles wide. There are mountains on the north and south with a plateau inbetween. Salamis and Paphos are both harbors.
Luke told us back in 4:36 that Barnabas was from Cyprus. It was known in the OT Hebrew as Kittim. The Bible does not say but I wonder if Barnabas wanted to go to Cyprus to evangelize his family, maybe his parents.
One of the harbors of Cyprus was Salamis. This was a Greek city, dating back six hundred years, on the east of Cyprus. Its population was about 35,000. It had a fairly large community of Jews there and probably Barnabas’ family, even extended family.
THE SECOND LEG OF THE JOURNEY - 13:6-12:
Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark traveled from Salamis on the east to Paphos on the west. There, Luke tells us that the mission team met Bar-Jesus or Elymas, who was a Jewish magician, a false teacher. He was with Sergius Paulus, either he was a spiritual advisor to Sergius Paulus or he was trying to convince Sergius Paulus to become a Jew.
The term “proconsul,” (the Greek term) was questioned for years by skeptics until archaeologists found a coin from Cyprus with the image of Claudius Caesar on one side and this particular term written on the other side. It was during the reign of Claudius Caesar that the mission team visited Cyprus. The name “Sergius Paulus” has been found as a name of a couple of different men from this time period.
Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man and he had heard of the Christian message and wanted to know more. So, he called for Barnabas and Saul to hear the Word of God.
But, Elymas, Bar-Jesus, was trying to oppose Barnabas and Saul and turn Sergius Paulus away from hearing about the Christian faith. Now, keep this one point in mind before we go any further… Elymas, being a Jew, had the Old Testament, the “Jewish Bible,” in his hands. He could easily point to passages like Genesis 17 and say, “Look, Sergi, you’ve got to be circumcised to be saved. That’s what God told Abraham to do in order to have a relationship with God and that’s what you’ve got to do.” But, of course, Elymas would be taking Genesis 17 out of context to teach that. But Elymas had a written “Bible.”
Barnabas and Saul did not have a “Christian Bible” in their hands. They did not have the New Testament written down yet. So far as we can tell, according to the best guesses of scholars, the gospels will not be written for another 5-6-7 years. Paul himself will not write any of his letters for another year or so. In other words, the Christians had no Bible to point to to say, “No, Sergius, look… Jesus died and rose again and we don’t have to be physically circumcised to be saved. We have to believe and obey Jesus Christ.”
So, what can they do? Verse 9… Saul, who was also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, he could work miracles, and he fixed his attention on the false teacher and challenged him:
You are full of deceit - all deceit!
You are full of fraud!
You are a child of the devil!
You are an enemy of righteousness - all righteousness!
Are you ever going to stop making the straight ways of the Lord crooked?!
Then, in verse 11, Paul illustrates that he has miraculous power, from the Holy Spirit, and is teaching the truth because the Holy Spirit will not work through a false teacher…
Paul says, “The hand of the Lord is on you. You are going to be blind. You will not see the sun for some time!” Then all of a sudden, judgment from God fell on Elymas as a mist, a darkness, came over him and he had to stumble around, looking for someone to lead him by the hand. I wonder if God ever gave him his sight back. I wonder if Elymas ever repented of teaching false and became a Christian. Luke never tells us.
But Luke does tell us what happened with Sergius Paulus. The whole purpose of miracles in the Bible is illustrated in verse 12: Sergius Paulus believed the gospel message when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. So Sergius Paul became a Christian and we’ll meet him one day.
THE CALL TO EVANGELIZE:
Brethren, this is what the church of Christ is all about - we are called to call people to worship God through the Lord Jesus Christ. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).
So, the Swartz Creek church of Christ was planted by the Bristol Road church of Christ over 50 years ago, to share the gospel in this community but you can become a Christian yourself without having the love of Jesus burn in your heart to want to share that gospel with others.
So, the church here has been involved in mission work throughout the decades and we will continue to focus on mission work for the coming decades. Why? Because that’s who we are; that’s what we do.
The largest mission work we’ve been a part of is the Latin American Missions. The work in Latin America is a strong, old - as old as the Swartz Creek church of Christ - and established mission work. Many, many churches are involved and have been involved in the Latin American Missions with Jack and John Farber for the last several decades. Many of you have gone on campaigns to Latin America to help with VBS and to help with building projects and the orphan home, and so forth.
We will continue to be involved with the Latin American missions but this year, we added Zane Copeland and his family who are the first missionaries for churches of Christ in Mongolia. If you are on Facebook, I would encourage you to “Friend” their page: “God Khan(quers) Mongolia.”
This year we also added Rainbow Omega. Rainbow Omega is a non-profit organization in Alabama supported by churches of Christ which provides housing and vocational assistance to adults with developmental abilities. If you want to talk about “social justice,” this is “social justice” - it’s giving adults jobs, giving adults a reason to live, something to put your heart into, to develop a sense of accomplishment and need and fulfillment.
Of course, another long-term work the church here has been involved in has been helping the orphans through the Shultz-Lewis organization in Indiana. We helped put Michael Tanksley through preacher-training school in Knoxville, TN and we helped with hurricane relief. We also wanted to send three mission teams to Romania. In fact, in early March, just as we were beginning to advertise our first campaign in Romania, we had two people contact us before we had to cancel the trip and stop the advertising. Who has missed out on hearing the gospel because the devil sent this virus to bring everything to a halt?
But family, here’s the deal… People can go to heaven on an empty stomach. But no one - no adult - can go to heaven with an empty heart. Everyone has to know about Jesus and obey Him in faith. That’s why we’ve got to focus on mission work.
One of the young men we were going to take with us to Romania is Joshua Dykes who is a senior missions major at FHU. He wants to move to Romania to work long-term. It may not be him but I want Swartz Creek to have our own missionary. Not just send checks each month to someone else, to send to someone else, to send to someone else. There’s not much of a relationship there. I want our own missionary, someone we know and love. I want Swartz Creek to have a missionary and treat them the way our churches treated us when we were in Romania. They did not just send a check each month. They sent love.
Now, look back at 13:10… As much as we might like to think that all we have to do is to the truth, that’s not reality. That’s not what Paul did. Paul had to confront deceit, and fraud, the devil’s children, enemies of righteousness, those who pervert and twist the ways of the Lord. I must point out religious error - both to be faithful to God and to help others see clearly that what they believe is wrong. That’s the reason I am teaching a class for the next three months on Wednesday night on Islam vs Christianity. I expect those lessons will also be recorded and uploaded to our website.
But preaching the truth also involves exposing deceit, fraud, and religious perversion. Because error does not set men free. Only the truth sets men free.
THE THIRD LEG OF THE JOURNEY - 13:13-15:
Paul and Barnabas spent some time in Paphos but then it came time to change their focus and keep moving on… They went to Perga in Pamphylia. Pamphylia was a region in Galatia with its main city being Perga.
The city of Perga covered about 151 acres. It had a theater that would seat 14,000. A marketplace has also been uncovered, 300’ x 175’. A horse-shoe shaped gate on the south wall is the most striking ruin in Perga.
From Antioch of Syria to Antioch of Pisidia was about 515 miles. If the mission team traveled at 20 miles per day, they would have reached Antioch in 26 days. A round trip would have taken about two months but we don’t know how long they stayed in each area, if they took a day off, or if they even made 20 miles a day. Roman inns were spaced about 20 miles apart. If you had money, you could get a private room. If not, you shared a room with a number of strangers. About half-way between inns were stopping places where you could change your horse.
At Perga, John Mark quit the mission team and returned home. We don’t know why. Barnabas and Paul continued on, doing the work of the Lord, and came to Antioch of Pisidia. This was a Roman colony established by Caesar Augustus, independent of direct authority of the imperial proconsul and immune from imperial tax. Antioch is situated on seven hills. Antioch had a main street that ran east-west to the Temple of Augustus.
The street in the middle of the city had colonnades. The Temple of Augustus was a broad hemicycle and was decorated elaborately with stone carvings. This indicates how embedded paganism was in the city when Paul confronts their idolatry. There were two other temples near the Temple of Augustus. One had six columns along the short sides and eleven columns along the long sides. They sat on hills so they were visible to all around.
Paul went to the synagogue of the Jews on the Sabbath day and the next 25 verses or so are Paul’s sermon to the Jews, trying to get them to understand that they could be saved through Jesus Christ. We don’t have time to examine that sermon in detail.
Paul’s preaching of only one God and Jesus as His Son would have been strange to the ears of the Gentiles in Antioch and the worship among Christians in their own private homes would have seemed transient to their culture and traditions.
But none of that changed this point: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through Him. If man is to be saved from His sins, he must respond to Jesus Christ.
Take home message: Preaching the gospel message, not just locally, but in other places as well is our job. It’s what we do. It’s an important reason why we give.