The Cost of Access

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. Acts 16:1-5.

In our last installment, we made much of the fact that God did not require the Gentiles to be circumcised in order to follow Christ. So, why is Paul having Timothy circumcised? It is because they are still reaching out to the Jews in their synagogues, and the Jews require it for Timothy to enter.

I believe this is a pretty steep price. Timothy must have had a heart to reach his mother’s people. I am sure he did this willingly. It was his cross to bear; although it was not for himself, but others.

How willing are we to suffer to reach our neighbors, our kin, our nation? Many Christian martyrs preached at the cost of their lives over the centuries. Are we willing to be sneered at, mocked, defriended, shunned to be identified with Christ, and for offering eternal life? Get in now, while the price is relatively low!

No Religious Additives

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:22-29.

Since salvation came first to the Jews, many of them thought that salvation belonged to the Jews, and that anyone who would be saved had to first become a Jew. So the Apostles decided to make it clear that salvation only came THROUGH the Jews, because the Messiah came through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But when Christ died for the sin of the world, the world qualified apart from being Jews. The only requirement for Gentiles was that which the Jews were also commanded: no idols, no overt pagan practices, and no sexual immorality.

Now that God has made us all one through the sacrifice of His Son for all of us, we are ALL called to obey Christ’s commands. We are ALL to love one another, and forgive one another, as Christ forgave us. We are to extend the grace of God to ALL people, regardless of what tongue, tribe, or nation.

This was a tall order for many Jews, who had been persecuted brutally by the nations of the Gentiles for centuries. And the Gentiles also had a bone to pick over the way the Jews sought to eradicate them from Canaan. There were real opportunities to incorporate some payback for systemic racism and acts of genocide. But the blood of Christ was given to take ALL our sins away. And He came to make us one in Him.

Trouble Is Normal

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:19-23.

Here’s that persecution that Jesus promised. We seldom see this, but we also seldom see this level of obedience to preach the Gospel and advance the kingdom of God. At least, we don’t see it in America. In other countries there is plenty of persecution and martyrdom, which tells me they must be doing something right, even if all they are doing is being recognizable.

How do you identify a Christian in America? Is it by what he does, or does not do? Whatever you do, if it is recognizable that you believe in Jesus, it will set you apart. It will make you a target. But that is what we are called to do. You may think that the free exercise of your religion is merely attending church. But that was never commanded. Preaching and teaching and bearing witness to the Gospel is commanded. And that can get you in trouble, if you do it right.

Revival Scares People

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:44-52.

It is one thing for a man to be preaching to a crowd. It’s another thing altogether when the crowds come out to hear him. And then it goes up a level of concern when it starts to change people’s lives. That’s because the status quo usually benefits someone, and that person, or persons, don’t want you rocking their boat.

Throughout history there has been a complacent ruling class. Once Christian religious leaders became part of that ruling class, they didn’t like the status quo being challenged, either. Before the Reformation in the 1500s, the Catholic Church would tamp down heretics that spoke out against the church’s wealth and corruption. When the printing press was invented, and the Bible started being published in various languages, the church did what it could to suppress that. When reformers spoke up and got a large following, the reformers were imprisoned, forced to recant, and/or were executed. And here, in America, we have had our Great Awakenings. And every one of them had opposition from the established churches of most if not all denominations. It will be no different now.

Our preaching and teaching should oppose the status quo. That is because we live in a sin-cursed world that is loathe to acknowledge the God who created us. It’s a world that wants to redefine reality in a way that satisfies its redefined morality. And it wants you to abandon your rights and your religion, and your nuclear family, and your traditions, and your gender roles, and anything that you think is normal. And if you resist it, you will be shamed, depersoned, cancelled, prosecuted, and punished to the full extent of their ever changing laws. So, if were going to stand up to the status quo, we had better win.

Changed For a Purpose

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. Acts 13:1-12.

Saul and Barnabas did not just remain in Antioch as prophets in residence. The other prophets sent them out, by the Holy Spirit, to do the work for which they had been called. And when they were opposed by a false prophet, Saul (now also called Paul) pronounced a punishment that made the man temporarily blind. Now they knew who the real prophet was.

This is also the time where we start calling Saul, Paul. Not every disciple got a new name, although some did. Simon became Peter. Levy the tax collector became Matthew. And now Saul the Pharisee and violent persecutor of the church became a world shaking church planter. Perhaps the new name came because of the radical degree to which they had been transformed. Levy had been a much loathed tax collector, a sellout, a collaborator with the Romans. Simon was a loud mouth fisherman who was quick on the draw with his sword. And Saul’s reputation kept the rest of the church at arms length at first.

Several years ago, in a Good News Club at Crystal River Elementary, there was an ill-behaved little boy named James. One day he responded to the invitation to receive Jesus and become a child of God. A couple weeks later he went to one of our adult volunteers and asked if they could call him John from now on. He said he didn’t want to be James anymore, because James was not a good boy.

Jesus did not come and die on a cross just so we could get away with our sin. He did it to change our lives, empower us, and send us on a mission. It was not His plan to simply tag along with you as you went on your own mission. He has a calling, a mission, a part to play for each of us.