Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent and so we lite our first advent candle. Advent candles, as you’ll recall from last week, are…
How many people here are planning to have an Advent Calendar of some sort this Christmas? If you don’t know what an advent calendar is, basically, it’s a countdown for Christmas! Its kinda like a regular calendar except it usually only has 24 or 25 days on it and each day is printed on a little door that opens to reveal something on the other side.
Sometimes’s just a little picture or saying or maybe even a Bible verse behind each door. But most often there is a little gift inside. For example, growing up, we often had an advent calendar that had little chocolates behind each door. More recently, I know several people who have had lego advent calendars with little mini legos sets behind each door. But the idea is you start on December 1st, and then each day, you get to open the corresponding door and get the little prize inside! And of course, the biggest door with the biggest prize is always on the 25th – so it’s a great way to build anticipation for Christmas.
And as a church, we do a similar thing. Of course, we only meet together once a week, so we don’t have a daily countdown, but we do have a weekly countdown. We count down the four weeks before Christmas, which of course starts today.
But instead of an advent calendar, we have an Advent wreath – which has five candles – one for each week, plus one final candle for Christmas Day. Each Sunday of Advent we light a candle – not only to build anticipation for Christmas, but also to remind us of what Christmas is all about.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the shopping and the festivities and the family gatherings – and all those other good things that come with Christmas – but in all that activity – we often neglect to put much thought into what we’re actually celebrating.
Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! That’s why His name is right in the title – Christmas – or “CHRIST”mas!
And so these Advent candles – each reminding us of a different aspect of the true meaning of Christmas – are a great way to help us remember that Jesus truly is the reason for the season.
That’s why, over these next five weeks, we’re going to pause our series going through the Book of Acts, and instead we’re just going to talk about the meaning behind each of these candles. What is Christmas really all about? And chances are, I’m not going to say anything that most of us haven’t already heard many times before! But if you’re like me, we could probably use the reminder!
This morning we have already heard that this first candle is called the Prophet’s Candle or the Candle of Hope. We also mentioned that over 1/4 of the Bible is prophetic in nature. And you might find that a little bit surprising. I mean, there is a lot of stuff in the Bible – history, letters, poetry, songs…. Does prophecy really make up more than 25% of entire the Bible?
Last Sunday we learned some valuable lessons from the church in Antioch in how to deal with controversies and conflicts within the church. As you recall, there was one group of believers who believed and taught that Gentile Christians must be circumcised and follow the law of Moses like the Jews in order to be truly saved. But there was another group of believers – which included Paul & Barnabas – who believed and taught that faith in Jesus Christ was the only requirement for salvation – for both the gentiles and the Jews.
Because this issue was of such great importance – having eternal ramifications – the church in Antioch took this issue to the church in Jerusalem to seek the wisdom and guidance of the Apostles and elders there. To make a long story short, after much debate and at the leading of the Holy Spirit and following the counsel of Scripture, the decision was made that the Gentile believers did not have to become like the Jews to be saved. But rather, they affirmed that we are all saved the same way – by the undeserved grace of God. Jesus Christ did all that was necessary for our salvation – we simply need to believe and accept!
So with that issue settled, you might expect the church in Antioch to enjoy a long period of peace and unity. But unfortunately that was not the case. Even after seeing such a great example of conflict resolution within the church, Paul & Barnabas of all people – have a bit of a falling out. They have – what the Bible describes as a “sharp disagreement” and in the end, they wind up going separate ways. It seems to be a very different outcome compared to last week’s conflict which ended with everyone being in complete agreement.
Which makes us wonder – if the whole church can come together and arrive at a unified decision on such a terribly controversial issue – then why can’t these two key leaders of the church – missionary partners who had served God side by side for years – why can’t they seem to arrived at a unified decision concerning their issues?
Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today. We’ll start at verse 32 – which is still part of the story from last week as Judas & Silas (who are representatives from the church in Jerusalem) spend time encouraging the church in Antioch.
It reads like this:
32 Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. 33 They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. 35 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.
36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.
So let’s begin first of all, by noticing that verse 34 seems to be missing from this passage. Verse 33 says that Judas and Silas were sent back to Jerusalem. And then it jumps right to verse 35 which says that Paul & Barnabas stayed in Antioch. So what does verse 34 say and why is it missing?
Last Sunday Paul & Barnabas safely returned to Antioch after completing their first missionary journey together. And what a journey it had been! They had travelled over 1400 miles and preached the Gospel in dozens of towns and cities. They had done amazing miracles – such as healing a lame man who had the faith to be healed, as well as blinding the eyes of a sorcerer who had blatantly opposed the Word of God. They had also suffered persecution – they had been run out of town, plotted against, and Paul had even been stoned and left for dead!
But through it all, they faithfully preached the Word of God and completed the work that God had given them to do. And as they preached, crowds of people – including both Jews and Gentiles – came to hear their preaching and many became believers. These new believers formed brand new churches in many cities and so Paul & Barnabas appointed elders in each church to continue teaching and equipping those new believers – so that they might grow and mature in their walk with the Lord.
And so having done all that, they entrusting those new churches and new elders to the care of the Lord, and they returned to Antioch to report all these things to their home church – who had originally commissioned and sent them out.
And if this were the end of the book of Acts, we would probably conclude by saying “And they all lived happily ever after.” Acts chapter 14 kinda ends on that sort of note where the missionary journey was a great success and Paul & Barnabas settled down in Antioch for quite some time!
But that isn’t the end of the book of Acts, and as we get into chapter 15, we quickly see that they didn’t all live happily ever after. Before too long, the church became enveloped in great controversy!
And it wasn’t even the new baby churches that Paul & Barnabas had just planted who were embroiled in this controversy – it was their own home church of Antioch!
Now I know that we can hardly imagine having controversy within the church – especially coming out of these last few years of covid! We know nothing of that sort of thing, do we?
Of course we do! As long as there are people in the church, there are going to be controversies as well. That’s just the nature of different people with different perspectives all coming from different backgrounds and experiences – but all trying to work together to serve and honour God to the best of our abilities! With all those differences, there’s going to be some conflict! And that’s ok! The important part is how we deal with those differences. It’s how we work together though the conflict that really matters.
And that’s where this next chapter in Acts can be very helpful for us! As we watch this church in Antioch work through some of their controversies, I think there are a lot of principles that we can take and apply to some of our own situations here in the 21st century! The specific issues are likely different, but the principles for working through those issues remain the same.
So let’s take a look!
This morning we want to tackle a fairly large passage of Scripture – approximately two chapters in the book of Acts – but we are going to go through it fairly quickly. Today we want to take a bird’s eye view of the first official missions trip recorded in the Bible.
You’ll recall from a couple of weeks ago, the church in Antioch was told by the Holy Spirit to appoint two men – Barnabas and Saul – for the special work that God had called them to. At this point, we’re not told exactly what this special work would be, but as we read on, we discover that it would include traveling over 1400 miles to visit dozens of towns and cities, preaching the Gospel and planting churches all along the way.
This would be no small task, so to assist them in their journey, they would take along John Mark – who was a cousin of Barnabas and the eventual author of the Gospel of Mark.
This first missionary journey is recorded for us in Acts chapters 13 and 14 – and as I said, that is a lot of Scripture to cover in one sermon, so we are going to go though it fairly quickly. We won’t be looking at each verse in detail, but rather, we want to zoom out and try to see the big picture. What are the themes and what are the principles that we can learn about life and ministry as we look at this first missionary effort?
So naturally, there will be lots of good bits in these verses that we just won’t get a chance to look at today, but that just means there are lots of great things for you discover in your own personal study of these chapters later on!
Now we have already looked at some parts of Acts chapter 13. Two weeks ago, we went through the first 5 verses that talk about Barnabas and Saul’s commissioning as missionaries. Then last Sunday, Mike took us through a big chunk of Paul’s sermon in the middle of chapter 13. So we won’t rehash all that stuff. But there are four main stories that come out of these two chapters, and so that’s what I want to look at today.
The first story takes place in Paphos, so let’s begin reading in Acts chapter 13, starting at verse 4, as Barnabas and Saul first leave Antioch. It reads like this:
As we’ve been going through our study of the Book of Acts, we’ve noted how the story kinda jumps around from person to person – following a variety of different characters as the Holy Spirit works through each of them in unique ways. We’ve seen snapshots of Peter & John, Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, & Saul – all of them each playing key role in the early days of the church.
But so far, Peter has been the most visible character in these stories. We’ve seen him preaching on the day of Pentecost, later healing a lame man at the temple, confronting Ananias & Sapphire about lying to the Holy Spirit, bringing the Gospel to Cornelius and his household, and most recently being miraculously rescued from prison!
If we had to identify a central character to the book of Acts so far (Jesus Christ not withstanding) – I think we would have to choose Peter.
However, we are now just about half-way through the book of Acts and it’s at this point that the spotlight of the story shifts and will now follow a young man named Saul and it will track with him pretty much for the rest of the book.
Of course, Saul is not a new character to the book of Acts. We first met him back in chapter 7. At that time he was a zealous young Pharisee whose misdirected zeal for the Lord lead him to imprison and murder many believers.
But thankfully, in His grace, God saw fit to intervene, and in a very dramatic fashion, brought Saul to the saving knowledge and faith in Jesus Christ. And not only was Saul’s conversion dramatic, so was the change in his life! Almost immediately, Saul began boldly preaching about Jesus Christ – doing the very thing that he had condemned others for only days earlier!
With Saul’s zeal for the Lord now properly directed, He had gone from being the persecutor to being the persecuted! And so for his own safety, the other believers sent him away to his hometown of Tarsus.
But that certainly wasn’t the end of Saul’s story. Sometime later, Barnabas went to Tarsus to find Saul and brought him to Antioch where they both worked together with the church there for quite some time.
And that’s just about the last we’ve heard about Saul up until this point. The only other thing we know is that he and Barnabas have taken a trip to Jerusalem to bring a gift for the church there to help provide for their needs during a famine.
And so that’s where we’re going to pick things up today.