THE ACTS 23
THE TEXT SUGGESTS IMPORTANT CONCEPTS TO CONSIDER
As we follow Paul and Barnabus on this first missionary journey, they leave the island of Cyprus and sail north to the coast of Asia
Minor at Pamphylia. They did not stay in the coastal city of Perga, but took the long and treacherous road up to Antioch, which was 3600 feet above sea level. It has been speculated by some scholars, that they did this because of Paul’s health. In his letter to the Galatians, he mentioned that he first came to preach to them because of an illness. Later, we are told that Paul had an ailment which is not described but is referred to as a “thorn in the flesh”. There was an illness in that country that reacted to allergies and caused headaches so bad that they were debilitating. It is possible Paul had such an illness and did not want to stay on the coast, but traveled instead to the high country. We do not know for sure.
Arriving at Antioch, however, they went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. Remember that the promise was made to the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. Therefore, God wanted to tell them first of the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus Christ. So Paul always headed first to the Synagogue where the greatest number of Jews would be gathered. However, there were always Gentile proselytes present, too, and as we shall find, they were more receptive to the Word than were the Jews.
I want to pause here to note something that was typical of the Synagogue worship service, and to suggest a couple of things that I think we need to seriously consider in our worship services today.
Always, there was a time when the Law and the Prophets were read. The deep respect shown for the Word of God was evident, even if their interpretations of it were incorrect. I think we would do well today if we gave more time to listening to God, instead of spending all of the time talking to or about Him. The reading of God’s
Word would add a dimension of reverence and humble submission to His Will that is often missing from our worship “productions” today.
In connection with this, I feel that Christian people should learn how to read the Book. Even when the Bible is read, it is often droned, or recited in such a way that little meaning is transmitted to those who listen. We need to learn to read the meaning, not just the words on the page. Take the Lord’s Prayer for example. Each word of that prayer is fraught with intense meaning and should never simply be repeated by rote. One who prays that prayer should realize what they are saying, for some of the words ask God’s blessings on us only on the
condition that we act as He wants us to. God’s Word is a message from the Father to us, His children. It should be taken seriously and read carefully, so that the meaning is clear.
However, after hearing from God, the Synagogue leaders invited Paul and Barnabus to speak, if they had some “words of encouragement” for the people. How many sermons today include words of encouragement for the people?
At this point Paul stood up and began his incredible sermon. This is the only complete sermon of Paul’s that we have recorded. Even the wonderful sermon on Mar’s Hill in Athens was interrupted before he could finish, and tell them how they needed to respond to the facts he had related. Of course, for Luke (the author of The Acts) to have recorded this sermon in its entirety, he had to be led by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. God is still directing things as He sends His servants with the message of salvation for the world.
In our next essay we want to examine the contents of this magnificent sermon. It contains the essence of God’s patient dealing with mankind in working to restore him to a close relationship with his Creator. All of this was done to bring man back into the Garden of Eden where he once walked with God.