When Paul encountered philosophers while traveling alone through Athens, he siezed the opportunity to address the people where they were, using that as an inroad to preach the gospel. We, too, have a great opportunity in our world, where 90% of Americans still believe in a “higher power” of some sort, to speak about the gospel. It still runs contrary to human understanding, but God can still change hearts when His truth is declared.
As Paul continued through his travels in Macedonia, he finds himself in the city of Athens. Struck by their idolatry, Paul seeks to meet the residents of Athens where they are, in their context to share the truth of the gospel. This passage is a great example of how we, in 21st century America, should seek to share the gospel message with the people around us, wherever they happen to be.
Paul and Silas find themselves thrown in prison after casing a spirit of divination out of a slave girl who had been following them. As they were locked in a cell, their feet in the stocks, singing and praising God, an earthquake of supernatural origin caused all of the doors and locks to be opened. When the jailer saw that the prison was open and all of his prisoners must have escaped, he despaired and planned to take his own life. When Paul called out to stop him, and assured him that all of the prisoners were still in their cells, the jailer asked the most important question of his life. What must I do to be saved.
Following the mission team split, Barnabas and John Mark continued on to visit the churches that were started on the first missionary journey. Paul and Silas traveled throughout Asia-minor with the plan to spread the gospel as they went. Instead, the Spirit of God prevented them from the work in Asia-minor, and instead directed them to Macedonia, where some of the strongest New Testament churches began, including the church at Philippi.
As Paul and Barnabas continue on their mission work, a point of conflict arises concerning the inclusion of John Mark in the mission work. This passage teaches us that even though we may share a vision with other believers about the work of the kingdom, conflict will arise within the body. When it does, we need to seek forgiveness and reconcilliation, and we need to stand amazed that God will use our folly to further the growth of his kingdom.
Decisions have a great impact, setting a course for success or failure. Today’s passage takes us to one of the first doctrinal decisions the early church made as a body, and when we look at that decision, we know it was the right one. Its echoes remind us to not be ruled by tradition, to remember what God has done in the past, to be firmly anchored in the Word, and to protect the fellowship of our body.
While generations of faithful believers have debated over what the Lord’s Supper is, how frequently it should occur, etc., they have all realized that it is a crucial part of our worship. It was one of our Lord’s final requests, it shows our commitment (to the Lord and to one another), and it reminds us to celebrate and proclaim what the Lord did for us on the cross.
As Paul and Barnabas come to the end of their missionary journey, they revisited some of the churches they planted as they went, stopping by each one to encourage and teach these young believers. Their efforts strengthened these local bodies, and can teach us much about how we should work together with other believers to become the strong body of Christ we are called to be.
Paul and Barnabas heal a man in Lystra, and instead of praising God, the people begin to worship Paul and Barnabas as human incarnations of Zeus and Hermes. Meanwhile, some of the same people who had been so violently against them in Antioch came into town, and ended up getting the people of Lystra to stone Paul, leaving him for dead; however, he recovered and continued preaching. This shows us that, in the course of sharing the gospel, a lost world can perceive what we are doing in ways we do not intend; these can lead us to think more highly of ourselves than we should, and can also lead others to attack us, in an attempt to destroy our faith.
As Paul and Barnabas continue their missionary journey, they encounter many people who are happy to see them - and some people who wanted them dead. In this scenario, we can see three different types of people who will always exist, in a constant struggle to call people to repentance.