The event described in these verses is of monumental significance in the process of the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the 'ends of the earth'. What is at stake is the fundamental principle of the Gospel. Some believers come to Antioch and are putting forth an argument that in order for Gentiles to be saved they must first be circumcised and obey all of the Law of Moses. Paul & Barnabas see the error in this teaching and come into 'sharp dispute' with these brothers. Together they determine to appoint a delegation to take the matter to Jerusalem so that the Apostles and elders of the church there may give counsel and wisdom on this issue. As we observe this story we celebrate that the decision of the council preserves the truth that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus - nothing can be added to that message! We also take note of the grace-filled way in which this dispute between brothers is conducted and seek to observe and learn how we might more clearly be able to conduct our own disputes and debates with a similar balance of grace and truth!
We take note of a number of significant characteristics of this first journey: 1) it starts because of a commissioning by the Holy Spirit at the church in Antioch; 2) the team initially is 'Barnabas and Saul', but it soon turns 'Paul and his companions' as Saul's name changes to Paul and as he steps up to take leadership; 3) it is a journey filled with many hardships. At the heart of the journey Paul gives a speech in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch which clearly and powerfully represents the heart and soul not only of his ministry but of the whole message of the Good News of Jesus. It is the message that through Jesus, forgiveness of sin is possible in a way that never was possible before!! Paul's sermon here calls us to respond by first of all receiving the forgiveness of Jesus in our own lives and then by taking courage and reminding ourselves that the whole message of Christian faith finds its meaning because of this reality - Jesus came into the world to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin and to offer forgiveness to all who believe! This is the best news in the whole world!
As we jump back into the story of ACTS we pick up the pace and take larger chunks of text per session. As a result we encourage you to read ahead or at least read along so that you may savor and enjoy the details that we will pass by in our Sunday sermons. Click here to download the outline and reading schedule!
As we come to the final 2 songs of this collection of Psalms of Ascents we are drawn into a crescendo to worship to Yahweh! Psalm 133 calls us to pay attention to the high value of unity among God's people. Unity creates a holy space where God can pour out His blessing. Psalm 134 is a call to 'praise' or 'bless' Yahweh. In response to us blessing Him, God 'blesses' (same exact word!) us! This short psalm describes a beautiful interchange of blessing - as we declare what is true about Him (He is Almighty, Holy, King of Kings, Creator, Redeemer, Saviour, etc), He declares what is true about us (we are His workmanship; we are created in His image; we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus; we have His Spirit living in us). May our hearts be truly drawn to worship Him in spirit and truth!
In the series of Psalms of Ascents, this song stands out as different from the rest both in physical structure (length) and in content. It is longer and points our attention to the faithfulness of King David. We note from David's life that he was not a perfect man by any means but he was one whose heart was soft toward God and in this instance, we see him passionately committed to bringing the worship of God back to the center of the People of God. In this beautifully structured psalm, we see God responding to David's faithfulness by promising to put 'one of his descendants on his throne' - a very specific picture of the One who would come as Messiah. This song invites 2 responses - 1) that we would also be people 'after God's own heart' as David is described here and in Acts 13:22 and 2) that we would celebrate God's faithfulness in sending Jesus as a descendant of David who brings redemption to the whole world!