Commissioned - Acts 13
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Commissioned – 03.13.2022
Pursuit of the truth requires at least two things. Observation and patience. Sometimes, even if you’ve got both eyes open – you need a little more information before you can find out what’s really going on. For example, a few weeks ago I walked into the kitchen where my son was drawing at the kitchen table and I asked my oldest son, “hey, where Ezra?” (his little brother). And he said, without looking up, he said “Oh, he’s kidnapped.” I paused. Kidnapped? Then he said, “Yeah, mom kidnapped him.” And again, I paused. Mom kidnapped Ezra? And Liam got that exasperated look that 5 year olds get when adults are not keeping up – kind of like, “yes, of course she did.” And so I needed more information and I asked, “so, where is she?” “In Ezra’s room.” So, mom kidnapped Ezra – and they’re still in his room? And Liam said, “yeah, that’s where he takes his naps.” What do you think “kidnapped” means? When you put the kid down for the nap. They had to peel me off the floor I was laughing so hard. The pursuit of truth requires at least two things – observation and patience. Today is my first Sunday back from my paternity leave and we are returning to our year long study of the book of Acts. We’re jumping in to chapter 13 this week, but to give myself a refresher I was skimming through the first 12 chapters this past week. And what I really love about the book of Acts is that it’s a collection of the stories about the early church. It follows the bumbling efforts of a few people who love Jesus, and they are held together entirely by the Holy Spirit. It’s kind of a messy, dramatic story. And I think about our church, and everything we’ve been through in the past few years – there have been incredible moments of victory and celebration, and then there have been other moments of struggle and grief and pain and loss. I find it really reassuring, as I’ve looked at my faith and the work of the church – and I look at their faith and the work of this baby community of faith – there’s a lot of parallels, and a lot of things they went through that give me a lot of hope. If they can make it through all the drama and fighting and victories and challenges of their day – we’re going to be alright.
Today is my first Sunday back from my paternity leave and we are returning to our year long study of the book of Acts. So we dive in to chapter 13, and it starts, [read v.1-3]. So we’re in the city of Antioch, and they’re worshipping together. And the Holy Spirit speaks to them and says, “Paul and Barnabas are about to go on a journey” And so the community does three things. They fast – which is where they stop eating, they pray for the guys and then they lay hands on them. Like, put their hands on their shoulders, and pray for them – they send them off on their journey. And I want to point out – this community, when they pray for one another, they really mean it. Alright, moment of honesty – have you ever told someone you would pray for them, and then you forgot? I know that would never happen, but I do think sometimes in our church life we just say, “I’ll pray for you.” As sort of a nice thing to say because we don’t know what else to say. But that’s not what’s going on here - these guys are FASTING and praying. Like, they’re giving up meals for someone. Think of like this – if someone says, “I’ll pray for you” – that’s really nice. But if someone says, “I’m going to not eat today, and take my mealtimes to lift you up and talk to God about you and what’s going on in your life.” That hits differently, doesn’t it? I think fasting is a spiritual discipline that we don’t use much in American culture, but it can really help you focus in on your prayer life. Next time you’re going to pray for someone – try fasting and praying for them.
So anyways, the community gathers, they pray for these guys – bless them on their journey and send them off. And their first stop is a little island called Cyprus. And what they would do is, because they were Jewish, they would go into a town and visit the synagogue – and they would tell everyone who was gathered there about Jesus. And in one of the towns they meet the “proconsul” which is basically like a governor. It says in verse 7, [read it]. So the proconsul, he’s an intelligent man, and he wants to hear the word of God. He wants to hear what they have to say. But there’s this other guy, they call him a false prophet sorcerer (I’m not really sure what qualifies you as a false prophet sorcerer – maybe he was a weatherman or something? Like, always trying to predict the future, but getting it wrong a lot). But this sorcerer starts trying to influence the governor. You don’t want to listen to those guys, listen to me. And then, listen to this, [read v.9-11]. So, to recap: Paul and Barnabas, and some buddies come into town. The intelligent man governor says, “I want to learn more. I want to hear the word of God.” False Prophet sorcerer tries to sway him gets struck blind.
Now I’m reading this and I think the easy reading would be, “if you oppose God’s word, you will be struck blind.” But obviously that can’t be right – because there’s a ton of people in our world who oppose God and they don’t get struck blind – so what IS going on here? I think about this governor who was trying to find out the truth, and I think maybe the purpose of this little story is that if you pursue the truth, your eyes will be opened. If you pursue the truth, your eyes will be opened. If you pursue the truth, you will find Jesus. I think I’ve told this story before, but I grew up in the church. I went through the motions and was the good church kid. But when I went off to college I started studying philosophy and religion at a higher level – I had a crisis of faith. Some people might call it a deconstruction. It’s that moment in your faith journey when you ask yourself, “why do I believe what I believe?” Do I believe because my parents told me to? Do I believe because it’s the only thing I know? Or do I believe because it’s the truth? And I remember some of those conversations were really scary. To challenge assumptions, to ask questions – for me it felt like I sort of detached from the foundation, and I thought I might float away. And so I studied other traditions, other types of churches, other religions. I have read the Quran, I read the Bhagavad Gita, the Confucian analects, the Dao-de-jing. Now I’m not saying I know everything about all those religions – but I went searching. And I found the firmest foundation in Jesus. I believe what I believe because it is the truth. If you pursue the truth, your eyes will be opened. If you pursue the truth, you will find Jesus.
So then Paul and his buddies hop in a boat and go to the next town. And again, just like before, they go to the synagogue – where everyone is gathered and while they are there some of the leaders give them a chance to speak. It says in verse 15, [read it]. So then Paul stands up, and he launches into this massive history lesson – and it has really just one big point. Throughout everything that has happened in history, God has been working, and it all points to Jesus. He starts with Egypt – remember Egypt, slavery, ten plagues, parting the red sea – God was working. Forty years in the wilderness – God was working. The conquest of Canaan, the time of the judges, the prophet Samuel and the dawn of the age of the Kings – all that time, God was working. King David. John The Baptist, Jesus’ life and death and resurrection – all that time God was working. That’s why I do communion that way. I want you to see the parallels, the way it all fits together. See, here’s the big thing I want you to get from Paul’s little history sermon. A lot of people like to take nibbles of the bible. Little bite sized pieces that you can pull out and slap on a coffee mug or a sweater. But the best way to understand the bible, the most accurate way is to see it as one continuous story of God’s action and all of it points to Jesus. taking one verse, or one story is sort of like taking one puzzle piece out of the box. And maybe it’s a great puzzle piece, really beautiful with nice curvy edges – but if you only take a puzzle piece here and there, you’ll never catch sight of the bigger picture. Now, here’s why you should care. God has been working all along, and this is true for the entire history of humanity, and for the story of Israel specifically, but it is also true of your story. God has been working in your story all along. Every struggle you face, every trial and grief you carry – God has been working, and all of it comes together in verse 38. [read v.38-39]. When the final puzzle piece goes into place the picture is your salvation.
So the last thing that happens in the chapter, Paul does this big speech – and it’s so good, it’s so powerful that they say come back next week. And the next week almost the entire town turns up to hear the word of the Lord. So it’s kind of like they visited a church, and it was so incredible and the news spread and the next week – they’re just packing the pews, everybody in town was there to hear what Paul and his buddies had to say. But where there is success, there will be jealousy. [read v.45], and a little bit later it says, [read v.49-50]. If you succeed, if you do well – there will always be people who are trying to tear you down. The chapter finishes up, [read v.51-52].
When I think about the governor who wanted to learn more information and the false prophet trickster guy who was struck blind, and then I think about Paul’s history lesson showing us how everything comes together to point us to Jesus – the message of this chapter becomes clear. God provides the truth for those with eyes to see it. God is inviting you to take a peek behind the scenes of your story. All the struggles and challenges of your life – they are not pointless, they are not hopeless. No matter how many bad days we have, those days will not have the final word. Everything in your life – the good and the bad – all of it comes together to paint a much bigger picture. God provides the truth for those with eyes to see it.
I want throw a word out there for you to grab onto today. You’ve probably heard it before, but I just want to zero in on it for a second. The word is CONTEXT. Context is one of the secrets to finding the truth, and context paints a bigger and more beautiful picture. When you’re reading the bible, if you’re reading one verse, the context is the stuff before and after it – the background picture that helps you understand what you’re ready. You know that thing where you’ll see a video clip shared online? Like a news story, or maybe even just a viral video. It’s just like thirty seconds, where someone says or does something horrible, and it’s specifically designed to make you really angry. But then when you expand it, and watch the whole video, or you see a different angle – suddenly you understand the story better and you realize it’s not actually offensive. When you remember to look at the context, you’ve taken one step closer to the truth. My point with all of this is that the context for our present struggles, the backdrop to your story is personal salvation through the love of Jesus and the redemption of the world. If your puzzle piece for today is really ugly, don’t forget that it is not the whole picture God is making. God provides the truth for those with eyes to see it.
Coming out of that good news I have two challenges for you. First, gather more information. Seek the truth. Don’t take nibbles of the bible, pulling a verse here or there, remember the feast. The whole story – the epic tales from thousands of years ago all the way up to what you had for breakfast this morning, all of it ties together to create a masterpiece picture of salvation through Jesus. When you’ve got one piece of the puzzle, remember that the picture is not complete. Find the context, seek the truth, fill out the rest of the picture. I’m talking about reading your bible, but I’m also talking about gossip. The way you treat other people. The way you consume news and media. The way you look at a bad day. Or a pandemic. Don’t jump to conclusions – gather information, find the context, seek the truth. It’ll save you from a lot of fights and heartache. The first challenge, when you’ve got just one puzzle piece – gather more information.
Second challenge, fill your life with people who will do the same. Find people in a community who will see you as more than a label. So much of the world tries to squeeze whole 3 dimensional people down into little two dimensional boxes or categories. But a true friend, a brother or a sister in Christ is someone who cares about context. Someone who gathers more information about you. Someone who invests in you and tries to find the other puzzle pieces to every picture. God does this for us. He knows everything about us, and he has been moving throughout our story and all of history to point us to Jesus. So we can do this for others. Find people who will see you for all of what you are. Let’s be a community that cares about context.
My son informed me that my wife kidnapped my other son. But with a little patience, I was able to find context for the story. I look at the world we live in – the lose we’ve experienced in this church, pandemic responses, viral videos, denominational bickering and rumors, a war in Ukraine and a struggling economy. There’s a lot of little nibbles to our world. But if you take any one puzzle piece and make it your whole picture – you will lose all hope. But if you hold that puzzle piece up against a backdrop of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus and redemption for the entire world – hope is reborn. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you seek the truth with open eyes and patience. May you remember that God has been working in your story and ALL of history – painting a masterpiece that points to Jesus. May you create a community that cares about context, and in that way reclaim your hope. Amen.