A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES

 

Acts 13:1-52

Key Verse: 13:47

 

“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 Chapter 13 is a turning point in the world mission history. It is the beginning of the third phase of Jesus’ world mission command. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  In this verse, Jesus outlined geographically how that witness should proceed, beginning in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. In Chapter 13 we meet the beginning of the last phase, the going unto the ends of the earth. It is also the beginning of the apostleship of Paul. Apostle Peter went into the underground mission due to the persecution from chapter 12 and from chapter 13 Apostle Paul led by the Holy Spirit began to preach the gospel message to the Gentiles through his three missionary journeys until Acts ended with him having 1:1 Bible studies in his own rented house in Rome. It is also remarkable for the Antioch Church to become the world mission headquarter. I would like to focus on the presence of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual development of Apostle Paul as a light for the Gentiles in this passage. May God inspire us to follow the example of the Antioch church, who obeyed God’s leading to “set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” I pray that God may ignite us with a vision for sending new missionaries to the harvest field so that we may become a light for the Gentiles.   

PART I. THE ANTIOCH CHURCH, A MISSIONARY SENDING CHURCH (1-3).

In chapter 12 the church in Antioch was introduced as the Bible studying, giving, disciple-making, international, and world mission-minded church. In chapter 13 the Antioch church became a missionary sending church. Look at verse 1. “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire, was the capital of Syria. A city of natural beauty like Washington, it was known as the “Heathen Queen.” However, God began a wonderful work of the world mission in this spiritually darkened city. The world mission work begins with a dynamic group of Christians in the church in Antioch who were using the spiritual gifts that were given to them. There are listed here prophets and teachers-men who had the gift of prophecy, and others who had the gift of teaching. Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus who had been a pillar of the Jerusalem church. He knew how to see the work of God in others and embrace them. Simeon was called “Niger,” meaning “black.” Perhaps he was from the African country now known as Nigeria and his name may indicate that this man was black. Many scholars believe that Simeon was a man called Simon of Cyrene who was commanded by the Roman soldiers to take up the cross of Jesus when he fell under its weight. Lucius of Cyrene may have been a pioneer who first shared the gospel with Greeks. His Latin name indicates Roman influence. Manaen had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch; he must have been a privileged person. Saul had been a Pharisee from Tarsus but raised in Jerusalem, a Jew of Jews. They worked together like one man though they were dynamic in their backgrounds and nationalities. There were no barriers among them. God established a strong team with five servants of God. They used their talents to serve the Antioch church faithfully. They were busy doing what God had equipped them to do in the church. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to them while they were serving the church diligently. Many people ask God while doing nothing, “ Please give me a direction.” But when we are faithful to God in a small thing attending Sunday worship and 6 A.M. prayer meeting and answering 1:1 study questions, God gives us direction. God grows us step by step and there is no overnight miracle. God did not use Saul right away but matured him through 12 years of training since his conversion.

 Look at verse 2. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” The Antioch church worshiped God. They came together to exalt God and express their love for him. Perhaps they had a praise team like our YDJ. The missionary sending vision was rooted in worshiping the Lord. Their worship was accompanied by fasting. It is interesting to see that they were all fasting. This was not because they were overweight, it was because they were seeking God’s direction. It is too bad that not many Christians fast these days. People eat too much. In the Bible, fasting is always the mark of deep spiritual concern. Fasting intensifies prayer in seeking God’s guidance. They knew the church had to expand to the Gentile world. Through fasting and prayer they humbly sought the will of God for the Antioch church. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to them. He said to the church, “Now set apart Barnabas and Saul for my work.” What a shocking direction it was! But no one protested, “Oh, no. Our fellowship will collapse without Saul. Send junior disciples.” This is the way the call of God came in this initial thrusting out towards the uttermost parts of the earth. It was the Holy Spirit’s sovereign choice: He chose the men, and he chose the work. The Holy Spirit chose the top leaders to be missionaries. It must have been hard to send Barnabas and Saul because they were the backbone of their ministry. What should we do if the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart David Brogi and Steve for my work?” That is a good question to pray about. How did they respond? Look at verse 3. “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Wow! They obeyed the Holy Spirit. That means the whole church was involved-one body, acting together to indicate to these men that they would be with them with prayer support and with whatever financial support they would need to fulfill their mission. Nobody acted selfishly at this time. They sent them out with the unity and harmony of the whole church together behind them. Here we find an important mission strategy in this passage. We need two teams-sending team who support missionaries overseas and going team who go out to the mission field. Let’s call the sending team as home team and going team as mission team. Home team cheers the mission team and the mission team sends the mission report. They obeyed the Holy Spirit prayerfully and immediately. What made the Antioch church become the missionary sending church for the Gentiles? It was their spiritual environment. They loved the Bible study and fasting and worshiping. They have God-centered life and were aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. They had spiritual unity among themselves overcoming all human barriers. Do we have such a spiritual environment? Yes, I believe we have. We must realize that God wants to send the best people for world mission and obey his guidance. Korean UBF sent the best people for the world mission and God blessed them with more people. If Washington UBF gives the best people for the mission work, God will fill our center with more people. That’s the way God works. It was the historical moment that changed world history forever. The impact of Acts 13 is immeasurable. From this time on missionaries sent by the Holy Spirit filled the earth and evangelized the Roman Empire and the entire world later.

Thank God for sending M. Wynelle Nett to Germany as our first missionary in 1988. Thank God for sending M. Abraham Lee to China as our second-generation missionary like M. Sam Folta. John Lee and Jenifer Roberts were sent out as student missionaries. Now many young men and women like S. Augustine Park are inspired to follow their examples for the work God called them to do. God sent senior mission journey team to China last Thursday. I believe that God set apart the best people like YDJ as missionaries for his future work. Mother Barry gave us a prayer topic to send 100,000 missionaries including to the Muslim countries and to North Korea within 40 years. The key to achieve this vision is YOU!!!

PART II. ON CYPRUS  (4-12)

In this part we see Paul’s first missionary journey. The mission team consisted of Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark as a helper. Let’s follow his journey for a while. Look at verse 4. Barnabas and Saul, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, arrived at Salamis on the island of Cyprus. Pay attention that the Holy Spirit led the mission team. Many church members asked them, “Please go to my country. It is a good mission place.” First, they went Cyprus, home country of Barnabas. We also see the pattern of their mission trip. They used the Jewish synagogue as their mission center. They proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. Then they traveled through the whole island and came to Paphos. Who was waiting for them? There Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, and an intelligent man, sent for them. He really wanted to hear the word of God. Though a man of position, he was a thirsty soul, longing for God. It was an open door for ministry. As we see it, the Gentile world was a field ripe for harvest. However, there was an obstacle. Whenever we try to feed sheep, there is an obstacle to overcome. Elymas the sorcerer opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. He was misleading the proconsul. He had an impure motive to put the proconsul under his influence to satisfy his material gains.

What happened? Look at verse 8. Again the Holy Spirit helped Paul to deal with Elymas’ opposition. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” And, “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.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand (9-11). Paul proclaimed the judgment on the enemy of God and Elymas became blind temporarily. Here we learn that missionary work is a spiritual battle. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the devil. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to defeat the enemy devil to protect our sheep. Paul protected the proconsul from the enemy of God. What was the result? The proconsul was encouraged and believed the word of God. Sergius Paulus became Paul’s first recorded convert in Acts. From verse 9 Saul’s name was changed to Paul. Paul exercised the full powers of an apostle of Jesus Christ in this passage. This happened twelve years after Saul met the risen Christ on the way to Damascus. Twelve years after his conversion this former enemy of Christ is now a humble servant, faithful, trustworthy team player, willing to go wherever the Holy Spirit leads him. God gave Paul twenty wonderful, fruitful years from this point on. I think it takes for a while for us to grow as a powerful missionary. It takes many years for God to mature us.

Look closely at verse 13. It says, “From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.” Until now, the mission team has been known as “Barnabas and Saul.” From now on it is known as “Paul and his companions,” or “Paul and Barnabas.” Leadership of the mission has transferred from Barnabas to Paul. Perhaps this led John Mark to return to Jerusalem. Maybe, Mark was a bit spoiled as the son of a wealthy widow. He liked to follow cousin Barnabas. Maybe, he was not tough enough for the spiritual fight yet. Acts 15:38 says, “But Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.” Though he was weak, he accepted the cross of Jesus and became the author of Mark’s gospel. He became useful again. Paul said in 2 Tim. 4:11, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” He was changed from a deserter to a helper to Paul. To the team, it was a painful event. Anyway, they went on and arrived in Pisidian Antioch. 

PART III. IN PISIDIAN ANTIOCH (15-41).

On the Sabbath Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers said, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” Paul seized the opportunity. He stood up, motioned with his hand and began to speak. He had a keen sense of God’s history and a clear gospel message. Being in the synagogue probably most of the audience was the Jewish. Paul realized that they were reading the Law and the Prophets but they did not understand that the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Paul wanted to help them to understand God’s plan for the world salvation through Jesus. In verses 17-23, Paul summarizes the history of God’s work in Israel, culminating with his promise to David to send a Savior. Why did God give his promise to David? He was introduced as a man after God’s own heart. David wanted to please God in whatever he did. He understood what God wanted from him. It was not his achievements but his repentant heart. David was spiritual in his failure not in his success. He repented of his sins with tears and humility. God promised to send the Savior of the world from his line. As God promised, Jesus came. Jesus is the Savior of the world.

In verses 24-31, Paul presents the facts of the life and death of Jesus. Jesus’ coming was prepared by John the Baptist. Jesus came as a good shepherd for the people of Israel. Yet the people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus. With no charge, they had him condemned and crucified. However, his death was not a tragedy; it was the fulfillment of prophecy that the Messiah would come as the Lamb of God. Jesus’ death was to save men from their sins. Ultimately, Jesus died to obey his Father and fulfill God’s will for world salvation.

What did God do when his one and only Son Jesus was buried in a tomb after crucifixion? God raised him from the dead on the third day (30). By raising him God proved that he is living and almighty. By raising him God destroyed the last enemy, death. By raising him God gave a living hope of the kingdom of God to those who believe in the Son.  Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection are historical facts. God established Jesus’ apostles as witnesses of these facts to all mankind.

Jesus’ resurrection brings forgiveness of sins and justification to all who believe. In verses 32-41, Paul applies the gospel message to his listeners. By quoting several Old Testament prophecies, he shows that Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the promises of God. We seem to have many problems. But our fundamental problem is death. All men will die someday and turn into dust of the ground as the punishment of their sins. But here is the good news. Look at verses 38-39. “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”  Under the law of Moses all die. We know it because we cannot keep all the laws 100%. But Jesus paid the cost of sin in his body and freed us from the bondage of sin and death. Through Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins. Not only so, but we are also justified---that is, declared “Not guilty.” This is good news to them. Now it was their turn to accept this good news or reject it. Those who scoff at Jesus will perish and those who believe will be saved. What should be our response to the gospel message? We must accept the gospel of Jesus and live as the children of God.

PART IV A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES (42-52).

The people of Pisidian Antioch were deeply touched by Paul’s message. They were freed from the burden of the law. They invited him to speak again on the next Sabbath. After the meeting was over, many who heard the message followed Paul and Barnabas home. They wanted to know more. We can imagine that they had many group Bible studies and one-to-one Bible studies. The word of God worked mightily. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. However, when the Jews saw the crowds of Bible students, they became jealous and began to speak against Paul and Barnabas. They reacted emotionally. It was a painful moment. Paul and Barnabas had brought the life-giving gospel to the Jews through the Holy Spirit.  The Jews rejected it. Not only so, they became enemies of the gospel. Paul and Barnabas knocked on the door of the Jews to bring the good news of the gospel. But they shut the door in front of them. They missed God’s great blessing just in front of their eyes. We should not miss God’s opportunity. For example, Dr. Lawrence in Vienna, Austria became famous by saving a dying daughter of a millionaire. He took a walk one day in America where he had come to attend the seminar. But suddenly there was a rain shower and he knocked on the door of one house nearby to avoid the rain. But one lady came out and shut the door by saying, “We have too many problems with a dying daughter. Please look for another house.” Next day the lady realized from the newspaper that he was the doctor who could heal her sick daughter. She missed the opportunity given to her by shutting the door. We have to welcome the gospel of Jesus when we have the opportunity. Someday the door may be closed. 

How did Paul and Barnabas respond? Look at verses 46-47. “Then Paul and Barnabas 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 has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’” Paul and Barnabas did not feel rejected. They saw God’s plan for the Gentiles and they saw the Gentiles as the precious children of God. Instead of being discouraged, they pressed forward through the open door to Gentile ministry. God turned their rejection to the opportunity for the world mission.

What did Paul mean when he said, “The Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles....’” This is a quotation from the prophet Isaiah. Paul omitted the first part of Isaiah 49:6 here, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” God’s plan was bigger than the restoration of Israel. It was the worldwide vision. It was to the end of the earth. From the beginning God wanted to save the whole world. Of course, ultimately, Jesus is the light for the Gentiles. Jesus reveals God’s love for the Gentiles.  Jesus reveals God’s forgiveness to the Gentiles. Jesus reveals God’s peace to the Gentiles. Yet, by commanding Paul, Jesus was making Paul himself a light for the Gentiles as he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus to them. In reality Paul applied this command directly to himself because he was appointed as the apostle for the Gentiles in Acts 9:15, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” Through the rejection of the Jews, Paul found God’s perfect will for the Gentiles though he had desire to save his own people first. He enlightened the dark Gentiles as a light for the Gentiles. He became a man on the move.

When Isaiah heard God’s urgent call, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”, he responded, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa. 6:8) He did not say, “Send somebody else,” but said, “Send me.” William Carey went to India and David Livingstone went to Africa as Jesus’ debtor until the end and Jim Eliot went to Latin America. Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward and Charles Studd went to China responding God’s call for the world mission. Charles Stud said later, “As I believe I am now nearing my departure from this world, I have but a few things to rejoice; they are these: first, God called me to go to China and I went in spite of utmost opposition of my loved ones.” He obeyed the call of the Holy Spirit. He was glad for it. When God saves us from our dark past life of sin, he had a clear purpose for us. He chose us to declare his wonderful grace for the Gentiles.  He called us to be a light for the Gentiles. Jesus told his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). When we recognize ourselves as a light for the Gentiles, we are not discouraged by rejection. Instead, we are really happy with God’s high calling. We can see all kinds of people as precious children of God with a great hope for world salvation. God’s heart desire is to shine his light for all people of the world. God called us to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth. Romans 10:14b says, “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” The Gentiles need someone preaching to them. We hear the urgent world mission call. Today, we live in the global community. There are no borders, no barriers, no national division in Jesus. UPS trucks carry a log “World-wide delivery.” Do you want us to remain as a local delivery chapter or a worldwide delivery chapter with the world mission vision? Ashely Fox said, “I only traveled between College Park and Hagerstown.” She is saying, “I am a local girl.” But she has vision to travel the whole world. She will be an international girl somebody. Jen Slingland already became international for Jesus.

Who knows? Maybe Sergius Paulus is waiting for the missionaries somewhere in the world. We cannot ignore the cries of the Muslims in the dark world. We cannot ignore the urgent calling of 1.3 billion people in China and we cannot ignore the cries of North Korean men in chains. We hear the call of Latin American men. Love Latin America. We have to find another Simeon called Niger to pray for Africa. Jesus is calling you to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth now. Time is now to respond to the urgent missionary call of Jesus.

 How did the Gentiles respond? Look at verses 48-49. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread the whole region.”  Joy filled their hearts instead of jealousy. The Gentiles were hungry towards the word of God and the whole region was changed through Paul’s mission journey. The world mission team was very successful in their first half of mission trip.

In this passage we learn that the Holy Spirit chooses and uses those who love Jesus for his world mission purpose. Through their obedience to the Holy Spirit, he leads them step by step to be a light for the Gentiles. This is the most glorious privilege and greatest joy anyone can have. May God use each of us as a light for the Gentiles to make North America a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Let’s read the key verse 47.