Fasting that Changes the World
FASTING THAT CHANGES THE WORLD
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, I want to invite you to open to Acts 13. If you are not a Christian, I pray that today you would see the glory of God shining in the church. If you are visiting with us, maybe, from another church, you are a follower of Christ and visiting from another church, we hope that you will feel welcomed amidst brothers and sisters this morning.
Then, if you are a member of this faith family, we hope that you did not eat breakfast, because we are fasting together as a faith family today. So, if you missed that memo from last week, were not here last week, or just chose to disregard that memo from last week, and you ate breakfast, we are not bitter at all, but we want to invite you to join for the rest of the day in a day of fasting, if it’s physically possible. Obviously, I know that for some that is not physically possible, and so I would encourage those who fall into that category to identify our...what is some desire, necessity so to speak, like food on a daily basis that you would desire during the day, all day, and how can you hold back from that in order to focus on something...something deeper. That’s what fasting is about.
Why do we take a day, so to speak, not to eat? The reason we fast is because we all, every single one of us in this room, every single person on the planet has a hunger, desire, craving for food, and it will...it’s there all day long. What we do when we fast is we come aside as the people of God, and we say, “You know we actually have a craving, a hunger deep in us that is far greater than just a hunger for food and a craving for food. More than our stomachs long for food, our souls long for God. We want to see...more than want a nice lunch or nice dinner, we want to see the power of God in our lives and in his church.”
So, what I want us to do is I want us to spend some time in the Word. Kind of at the start, here, at our worship gathering and let that lead us into prayer and worship as we’re fasting today. So, we’re going to be in Acts...in the beginning for Acts 13 and very end of Acts 12. We’re actually going to start in 12:25. We’re going to go through Acts 14, but I want us to see a picture of worship and prayer and fasting in the early church, and I want us to identify with the church in this picture.
So, let’s go ahead and read it...the very beginning at least. Acts 12:25 is where we’ll leave off. You remember what we saw last week; the gospel has now gone to the Gentiles, to the nations. The Church in Antioch has been born. A church made up of Jewish and Gentile Christians. So, Acts 12:25 says,
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, who’s other name was Mark. Now there in the church at Antioch there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart from me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Now, what I want us to get a feeling/sense of in here is the importance of what we just read, because Acts 13:1-3 sets the stage for everything else we’re going to read in the book of Acts. Three missionary journeys are going to take place that Paul is leading, and they’re all born out of the church at Antioch, everything we see. I don’t think we can overestimate what just happened here.
Pastor John Piper said this about this passage:
This moment of prayer and fasting resulted in a mission’s movement that would make Christianity the dominant religion of the Roman Empire within two and a half centuries and would yield billions of adherants to the Christian religion today with a Christian witness in virtually every country of the world. Thirteen out of the twenty-nine books of the New Testament were the result of the ministry that was launched in this moment of prayer and fasting. So I think it is fair to say that God was pleased to make worship and prayer and fasting the launching pad for a mission that would change the course of world history. Is there not a lesson there for us?
Yes, there is a lesson there for us. When God’s people come together and worship in prayer and fasting, we do not know what will spring from that. We cannot imagine what will spring from that, and so, that’s what we’re going to do today. We’re going to pray and worship as we’re fasting, and we’re going to see what the Spirit does. Could it be that, even in the next few minutes that we have together, the Spirit of God might do something in our midst, in our hearts in this room that would have untold affect on nations or people groups hearing the gospel in the days ahead? So, let’s dive into this picture.
We fast because we want God’s glory more than we want food.
I’ve got two reasons that I want to put before you based on this text of why we fast, and then we’re going to pray and worship together. First, we fast because we want God’s glory more than we want food. We want to see the glory of God. We want to know the glory of God. We want to declare the glory of God. That’s what this whole text is about. I want you to see this is what the church in Antioch is doing in fasting and worshiping together. I want us to see how we are identified with them.
We are united by His gospel.
Think about what was going on there that is also going on here. You have three commonalities...areas that we share in common with them. First, we are united by His gospel. This passage starts with a list of five leaders, prophets and teachers at Antioch. Look at the list. Barnabas, whom we know is a Levite from Cyprus. Simeon who is called Niger...literally, Simeon called the “black one.” Dark skinned, most likely from North Africa. Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch. Some of your translations say that he was brought up with Herod the tetrarch. Herod was the king who beheaded John the Baptist. Herod was the king who was a part of the crucifixion of Christ. So, here is a guy who grew up with Herod the king, and then you have Saul, persecutor of Christians.
That’s quite a list of guys. What brings them together? Certainly not their different backgrounds, different traditions, ways they were raised. No, what brings them together is all of these men were radically saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what unites them and us together in fasting. It’s not because we are more religious than others, or more devout, or this or that. The reality is every single follower of Christ was once dead; we were once dead in our sins and our trespasses, destined for eternal condemnation, and God, by His grace, opened our eyes to see the beauty of Christ, the death of Christ on a cross for our sins. Resurrection of Christ in victory over sin, and we have believed by His grace. We have believed, and He has saved us. That’s all that brings us together as a fasting community together. We are united by His gospel.
We are enthralled in His worship.
Second, we are enthralled in His worship. I love some translations. Instead of “worshipping” here, they say “While they were ministering to the Lord,” and it’s really closer to the original language here. It’s what it means to worship, but I want you to think about that. That when we gather together and worship, we are ministering to God. He is our audience, and we are ascribing praise and glory and honor to Him in a way that ministers to God.
I want you to see how this worship launches the church into mission. A people who are passionate about the glory of God will be passionate about spreading the gospel of God. Mission in the world is born in worship in the church. When we behold His greatness, we are ministering to God. We’re ascribing the glory that’s due His name. That drives us. We don’t walk out of this building silent today. No, we walk out. We’ve beheld His greatness. Now, we tell His goodness in Birmingham and all nations. A mission born in the context of worship.
We are abandoned to His mission.
So we’re enthralled in His worship, which leads to third, we’re abandoned to His mission. To get the picture here at Antioch, the good news has come to them. The gospel has come to them. They’ve heard it. Now, they are surrounded by peoples and cities who don’t know the gospel at all, and so they’re not sitting back saying, “I wonder what we should do now?” They’re not sitting back saying, “Well, let’s organize some things around ourselves.” No, they’re saying, “How do we get this gospel to other peoples and other cities?” In this way, they’re the same as us. We have received the gospel. It’s come to us, even if you’re hearing the gospel for the first time, you’ve heard it. It’s best news in the world in all of the eternity, and we have it.
Yet, we are surrounded by multitudes of people, even here in Birmingham, who don’t know it. Cities across our country and cities in the northeast or northwest, places where we are planting churches. There are so many people that don’t know the gospel. We talked about this last week; I hope we are all gripped by 6,000 plus people groups who have never even heard the gospel. So, here is the deal. The church at Antioch, they knew. They knew they had the gospel and knew they’d been entrusted to take the gospel to the nations, and we know that. We know we have the gospel, and we know we’ve been entrusted to take the gospel to the nations.
We fast because we need God’s direction more than we need food.
The question though is how? How do we do that? Who should go? Who should stay? Should we all go? Should we all stay? Anybody who goes, where do they go? What cities do they go to? How do we do this? This is we’re getting to the second part of why we’re fasting. We fast because we need God’s direction more than we need food. We want to know how God wants us to be involved in making this gospel known in Birmingham and the ends of the earth. How do we carry out this command to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth? Who should stay? Who should go? Where should we go when we go? This is where we see our need for God’s direction more than we need lunch today.
In our church …
We in our lives and we as a church, we need God’s direction in our church. So, follow this. The Spirit leads, and the church follows. This is what we have been talking about since the first day we started diving in to the book of Acts. Blank check, right? Put a blank check on the table with your life and your family and this church, a blank check on the table. “God, what do you want us to do? You lead us. You guide us. We will follow.” We are not here to negotiate with the Holy Spirit of God. We’re not here to make compromises with the Holy Spirit of God. We fast because we want to hear from the Spirit of God, and we want to follow whatever the Spirit of God says.
A blank check, and now you want to know how we know that the church at Antioch had a blank check on the table? Listen to what the Spirit said to them. “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” Barnabas and Saul. There are some in church who are probably thinking, “I can think of a few other guys we would rather you set apart and send out.” Barnabas and Saul; they were two people that, if you were at Antioch, you would love to stay at Antioch. It’s Barnabas and Saul, right? I mean, these are not guys that, when they go out, you’re going say, “We’re going to miss you, but things will pretty much stay the same around here.”
The reality is these two guys leave, and you’ve got people looking at each other saying, “Well, what are we going to do here at Antioch?” These are men who God has greatly used at Antioch, and yet, they were not afraid to send their best up. Blank check...this is not just putting a building or programs on the table. This is putting lives on the table. It wasn’t just tough for the church. I mean, you think about Barnabas and Paul. I mean, they had spent so much time with these brothers and sisters. This was their faith family they loved and cherished.
I was talking with a member of our faith family who is with his family overseas. I was talking with him this last week, and he was just sharing how, honestly, it’s really tough, basically, feeling alone a lot in another country, separated from this body of believers. It’s not easy, but the picture is when we fast, what we’re saying is, “Whatever you say, we’ll do...blank check, no strings attached.” So, are you there? Are you there in your life? Are you there in your family? Are you willing to say are we there as a faith family? Are we willing to say, “Okay, let’s put it on the table, and we’re going to seek your face. Whatever your Spirit says to do, we will do.” The Spirit leads, the church follows.
The Spirit calls, and the church confirms. What I love here in this picture in Acts 13 is the synergy between the Spirit and the church. The Spirit said, “Set them apart.” So, the church acknowledged that and said, “Yes, we’re going to set them apart and confirm that.” The whole church is involved here. You get to the end of Acts 14, and you see that they were commissioned by the whole church. The Spirit calls them out, and the church confirms, “Yes.” This is what’s happening here. It’s what I want in our faith family, and I pray for. We are so prone to individualism in our culture where one person will say, “Well, the Spirit is leading me to do this, and no matter what anybody else says, I’m doing it.” There is a tinge of boldness in that that’s slightly helpful and beneficial, but it’s not anywhere close to the New Testament pattern. Nobody is intended to say, “I’m going to do this regardless of anybody else.” The reality is we’re a part of a community of faith.
When the Spirit calls you out, the Spirit is going to confirm that in the church to encourage you as you go out. Nobody is a renegade in this thing. This is key, just a side note, if whether, today, as we’re fasting and praying, if this has already been happening or if this happens in the days to come...if you sense the Spirit calling you out, you or you and your family to go, and you start wrestling with that, do not wrestle with that alone. You don’t have to wrestle with that alone. You weren’t intended to wrestle with that alone. There are brothers and sisters that you are sharing life with, hopefully, in this faith family. There are brothers and sisters in this faith family who have spent years overseas that want to pray with you, help you think through that.
Jonathon and Carla having spent years in Central Asia. Paul and Carrie; Paul leads our mid-term mission. They’ve spent a couple of years in North Africa and the Middle East. Noah and Lindsay, the same thing. Bob and Susie Flanders, and Bob spent 25 plus years in Japan. So, these are brothers and sisters that can come alongside, so we can do this together. Can I be really just totally honest with you? Not that I would ever be anything less than honest. I don’t want to be deceptive, but maybe vulnerable would be a better word. This is for me too.
So, anytime I put before us, “Hey, we’re going to plant a church in North Africa.” I say, “Let’s put a blank check on the table.” Heather and I are putting the blank check out there as well with anything in our lives and our family, and I’ve been here almost coming up on five years. There has been one time in that five years where, as the blank check has been out there, there has been one thing where Heather and I found ourselves really praying through. “Okay. Is the Lord seriously leading us to this?”
The beauty is, as we were walking through that...now, I want you to know, it wasn’t in any way because I was or am discontent here or not committed to being here. Oh, I would love if, in God’s grace, you would give me the privilege of pastoring and shepherding this body for 20 or 30 years. If God in His grace, or you in your grace would allow that, that would be wonderful, but at the same time, there is a blank check on the table...and so, as we were praying through that, the beauty was we weren’t praying through that alone. Traditionally, pastors, when they’re thinking about, “Well, is the Lord leading me to something else,” they kind of keep that a secret. You don’t share that with anybody else.
The reality is, I look at the elders and brothers around me who are serving on staff, and these are brothers that want God’s will in my life and in the church just as much as I do. So, I shared that with them. “Hey, I’m wrestling with this. Will you guys pray with me through this,” and we did. For months, we prayed through that together and sought the Lord. “Lord, we’re putting a blank check on the table. Is this what you want?” As we did, it became clear that that was not what the Lord wanted.
So, I share that just to say, number one, I want there to have a blank check in my life, continually, and at the same...and if the Lord tells me to go to some unreached people group tomorrow, then I want to go...but at the same time, I believe in the work of the Spirit in the church, and I know that He’s not just going to do that in mine and Heather’s life. He’s going to do that in the church as well. This is good, and we can trust the Spirit with a blank check in our lives and our families and the church. He knows what is best for us, so we seek Him. We want His directions. The Spirit calls, the church confirms.
The Spirit sends, and the church supports. The text actually says that “the Spirit sent them out.” The end of verse 3, and the beginning of verse 4 says...all right, at the end of verse 3, it says the church sent them off, and at the beginning of verse 4, it says the Spirit sent them out.
Well, the reason I put the church supports here is because of this picture of laying on of hands. What happens? Well, in the Old Testament, when you are identifying with an offering that was about to be sacrificed, you would lay your hands on the offering. So, the picture here, in Acts 13, is the people who gather around. They lay their hands on Saul and Barnabas, and the reason they do that is because of their identification with them. It’s as if they are saying, “As you go, in a sense, we are going with you. We are with you.”
That’s why we do what we do when we send brothers and sisters from this faith family overseas to different contexts. We gather around. We place our hands on them, because it’s us saying, “You’re not alone. We’re with you. We identify with you as we pray.” Even in your giving to global offering, we’re identifying with them in our giving to help support them, and so, they go out, sent by the Spirit and supported by the church. This is where I want us to think about, even our fasting, needing God’s direction, yes, in our midst, but also in our brothers and sisters around the world. There are specific people that I’m going to reference a little bit later, but I will go ahead and point you to it.
In our brothers and sisters …
So, these are our brothers and sisters. These are the names of brothers and sisters who used to sit where you are sitting or next to where you are sitting, and the Spirit said, “Set them apart.” We, as a church, have affirmed them going out. So, we’re going to have some time, and I want you to have this. So, come aside from lunch and spend time on behalf of these brothers and sisters. We’re going to do that in a little bit.
The question is, though, how do we pray for them? Really, specifically and intentionally, how do we pray for them? So, what I want us to do is I want us to read through what happens after Paul and Barnabas go and along the way. We’re going to fly through these, but I just want you to see...I want you to have a list of practical ways you and I can pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who have gone out from our midst. Okay?
So, look with me at Acts 13:4. We’re going to read, then stop and see how we can pray. Read, stop, see how we can pray. In light of Paul and Barnabas going out, verse 4 says Paul, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they...” Paul and Barnabas, “...went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.” First thing we can pray for our brothers and sisters: pray that they would be confident in God’s Word.
Paul and Barnabas go, and they start preaching the Word of God. So, that’s what they did everywhere they went. This is what we’ve sent these brothers and sisters out to do. We have not sent them out just to learn culture, or just to do humanitarian relief, or this or that. We have sent them out to proclaim the Word of God. We want to pray that they would be confident in the Word they proclaim. So, pray they would be confident in God’s Word.
Verse 6 says,
When they have gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician, (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him...
We should pray that they would be filled with God’s Spirit. You might underline that phrase, “Filled with the Holy Spirit.” We’ve seen at different points through Acts...Saul/Paul already had the Holy Spirit, right? They already had the Holy Spirit in them just like every follower of Christ in this room has the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, but the picture is when people are proclaiming the gospel all throughout the book of Acts, we’ll see right before that, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak. So, the picture is there is a power that comes from the Holy Spirit for the proclamation of the gospel in settings like this.
So, we want to pray for our brothers and sisters. They already have the Spirit of God in them, no question. We want to pray they will be filled with God’s Spirit to proclaim God’s Word, which leads to the next prayer: for their victory in spiritual warfare. Listen to what happens:
Saul...filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
So, pray for their victory in spiritual warfare. Know this: when our brothers and sisters go out into contexts around the world, they are going into war. Real war that is not being fought with guns and missiles upon which temporary lives are held in the balance. This is war that is being fought with spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, and eternity is at stake. Souls are at stake for eternity in this war, and so, when we send our brothers and sisters out...you think about it, especially, into areas of the world, people groups who for generations, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years have been bound by the adversary in false religion...you think it’s just going to the enemy, the adversary; the devil is just going to fold easily? “Yes, here, take these people groups.” No, when we send our brothers and sisters out, we are waging all out war against the forces of hell, and as a result, we must pray for their victory in spiritual warfare and for their success in gospel witness.
So, all this...this magician is trying to keep the proconsul, who is, basically, the leader of Cyprus there in the Roman Empire, from believing, and it doesn’t happen. He believes. Just Paul and Barnabas. Nobody is in the Roman Empire leading this proconsul to the Lord. So, let’s pray for that. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters that they would have success in gospel witness; that, through them, people, maybe in leaders and tribes and countries would come to know Christ, and as they share with the lost, pray for peace with the other believers.
Listen to what happens next. “Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem...” John Mark, he leaves them. Now, we don’t know exactly what happened to cause this rift, but we know it was a rift, because you get to the end of Acts 15, which we’ll see next week, and you see that Paul talks about how John Mark had deserted them. So, there is all kinds of speculation over why this rift happened, but it’s enough to remind us to pray, as our brothers and sisters go out, that they would have peace with other believers. That people that are partnered together with them in the gospel, the enemy will attack them from the outside and from the inside.
Not even just with other believers in the church, pray for peace in homes. Don’t think that, when we send out a married couple, they are just going into ease when it comes to their marriage in the days ahead. They are going into battle when it comes to their marriage in the days ahead. The enemy would like nothing more than to sever that marriage, and in the process, sever the picture of the gospel that is displayed there. So, pray for husbands and wives and their love for one another and for their relationship with their children. This is huge. Pray for peace with other believers and pray for favor with unbelievers.
You keep going, it says, “They went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.” So, they go into the Jewish synagogue, and verse 15 says, “After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.’” So, they have just invited Paul to preach the gospel in the synagogue. So, pray for favor with unbelievers, that unbelievers would be open to hear the gospel.
So, Paul starts to preach. I wish we had time to dive into this whole sermon, because it’s good, and the reality is it’s only a portion or kind of a summary of the sermon. Some of you might read this and think that, “Dave, you could take some tips from Paul.” Like, it takes like three minutes to read this, but the reality is this is a concise summary of the sermon. We are pretty confident of that, so just know that. Paul was a guy who, I mean he’d preach and people would fall asleep out of windows and fall over dead, so we’re not there. So, just be thankful that we’re not falling over.
So, the sermon comes in here. Paul starts to preach. So, this is what I want us to pray for our brothers and sisters: pray that the gospel will be clear through them. We’re going to read through the sermon, and I want you to see the gospel. I want you to see all of the elements of the gospel. We talk a lot of times about five non-negotiable elements of the gospel. So, I want you to see them in the sermon starting with the character of God. Just listen. I’m going to try to emphasize how much Paul emphasizes the work of God, the actions of sovereign God in this sermon.
So he starts preaching verse 16:
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. And when [God] had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all of the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.”
Pause there; the sinfulness of man. They have killed the Messiah promised from the Old Testament...rejected him, leading to the sufficiency of Christ. We’re starting in verse 28. We see a portrait of Christ just like we talked about last week...life, death, resurrection. “Though they found in him no guilt worthy of death...” There is His life. “...they asked Pilot to have him executed.” There is His death. “When they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead...” There is the resurrection. “...and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus...”
He begins to quote from the Old Testament to show who Christ is.
“...as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another Psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption...”
This leads to necessity of faith. He’s going to call for response here.
“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about. ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”
As they went out [Now, they respond] the people begged that these things might be told on the next Sabbath. And after the meeting the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside [listen to this] and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Last element of the gospel, the urgency of eternity. Eternal life at stake in how people respond to the gospel.
So, here is the deal. Whether it’s Paul, or Peter or anybody else, we see them in different contexts, different settings in the book of Acts, and they’re preaching the same message every time, the gospel. So, that’s what we want to pray for our brothers and sisters, that, as they go, they’re in different contexts, different settings that they would have a wisdom to make the gospel clear in that setting. The gospel is going to be the same, but it’s going to be presented in different ways in Thailand among Buddhists than it is in India among Hindus. Different starting points. Our brothers and sisters, as they go, they’re going to start and begin to draw them and show them the gospel in the context of that culture.
So, we need to pray the gospel will be clear, and then, pray that God will open hearts around them. So, the response in verse 48 says, “When the Gentiles heard this they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, [listen to this phrase] and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” “As many as were appointed to eternal life...” So, we’ve seen all over the New Testament that only God can do this. Only God can draw people through Christ to eternal life. Only God can do this, so we pray that God would open hearts. “God do it. God open hearts and minds in these contexts around the world where our brothers and sisters are; open hearts to the gospel.”
Then, when it happens, know this: as they preach, it will not be easy. “The word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” Verse 50 says, “The Jews incited the devout women of high standing and leading men in the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples...” Listen to this, and they’re facing persecution. It says, “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Pray for this. Pray for their joy in the midst of suffering. Our brothers and sisters will experience suffering. Pray for their joy in the middle of it.
Acts 14:1 says, “At Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.” However, listen to what happened: “The unbelieving Jews stirred of the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Pray for their joy in the midst of suffering and pray for their kindness in the midst of slander. You have all kinds of people speaking against them. Know this: when our brothers and sisters go into contexts around the world making the gospel clear, Matthew 10 said it. Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of me. There will be fierce opposition.” People speaking against them, so pray that they would continue to preach.
Look at verse 3. It says, “They remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” Yes, that’s what we pray for. We pray for supernatural power to accompany our brothers and sisters as they preach the Word of His grace; that God would attend it with the Holy Spirit’s power. They would preach boldly and powerfully, and as they do...well listen to what happens. It says, “The people in the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.”
So, listen to what happened at Lystra.
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycoanian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out of the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are of men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
So, what do we pray? Pray for Christlike humility to characterize our brothers and sisters. Pray that when people around them revile them, that they would be able to stand under that. At the time, pray that when people around them exalt them, that they would be able to stand under that as well. That humility would characterize them. Crowds are very fickle. One day praising, the next day stoning, and so, pray that our brothers and sisters would not be swayed back and forth by the crowds, for humility in the midst of that and joy in the midst of that.
Next, pray for their patience. They’re trying to persuade these guys. “Don’t worship us,” but they could scarcely keep them from offering sacrifices. So, pray for patience and pray for their perseverance. I want you to listen to what happened next. You have to see this.
Acts 14:19, “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium...” These were places they had just been, this is Pisidia and Antioch. “...and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” So, they stone him where they think he’s dead. They drag him out of the city. They think he’s dead. Verse 20, “When the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, “We are struck down, but not destroyed.” You can’t stop this brother, and if there was any reason to take a rest, this was a good reason. You have just been stoned to the point where people thought you were dead. Take a day off, but he gets up, and he goes to the next city, preaching the gospel. Pray for our brothers and sisters that, in setback after setback and beat down after beat down and struggle after struggle, that God would grant them grace to stand, to persevere.
Ultimately, pray that God would use them to make disciples. “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and Iconium and to Antioch.” That’s what they’re doing. They’re making disciples and pray that God would use them to multiply churches. They’re strengthening the souls of the disciples. Encouraging them to continue in the faith, saying that, through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God. “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” That’s all it was. Make disciples, multiply churches. Make disciples, multiply churches. Make disciples who would come to Christ. Gather them together. Appoint a leader. Okay. Move on. That’s all it takes.
I’m not saying it was easy. Obviously, it was very difficult. It was challenging, but it wasn’t, “Make disciples, build a building, start some programs or organizations and get this thing going.” No, it was, “Make disciples. Have some pastors teach them the Word and, okay, that’s good.” That’s the pattern we’re going to see all throughout. Make disciples, multiply churches. Churches that are filled with people who know the Word. So, they’re being taught the Word in the middle of it, and churches led by pastors who teach the Word.
That’s what we want to be a part of around the world. Sending people out to make disciples and multiply churches. They will make disciples and multiply churches. They will make disciples and multiply churches, and this is how the gospel will spread to the ends of the earth. So, they did this. It says in verse 24, “They passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed back to Antioch.” So, this is where they had started, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door faith the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.”
In our lives …
So, this brings us back, now, to seeking God’s direction in our lives. So, hopefully, you have ways you can pray for these brothers and sisters. We’re fasting and praying for them in these ways. Bring it back to our lives, and then I want us to pray together...worship and pray together. I want you to listen to me real closely, because this is key. We’re about to see. It’s what we’ve already seen in Acts 13 and 14. I want to kind of put it together for us.
In our lives, we all have the same commands. In Scripture, we all have the same commands that apply to all of us. Husbands love your wives. That’s a command. Wives, respect your husbands. You don’t have to fast and pray for discernment from the Spirit of God on that one. You’ve already got it. That’s a command. You don’t need any further direction. Love and serve your spouse period, and we’ve got all kinds of commands, obviously, all throughout the New Testament. Walk in the Word. Seek God in prayer continually. Rejoice always. So, these are imperatives. Flee impurity. You don’t have to fast and pray on that one. If it’s impure, run. So, we’ve got commands that are the same for all. Make disciples of all nations...command, not optional. Not for some and not for others. Every single person. Oh God, deliver us from spectator mentality. Every single person who is a follower of Christ is commanded to be a disciple-maker. Every Christian make disciples. So, we all have the same commands.
At the same time, we all have different callings, and by “calling” here, what I mean is different ways of carrying out those commands. Now, that’s where it looks different, and it’s kind of more up in the air. It’s not necessarily spelled out exactly in Scripture.
Husbands love your wives...command, right? However, I’m called to love a different wife than you are, right? So, now there wasn’t a place in Scripture where it said, “David marry Heather.” So that’s where we need discernment from the Lord. Saul discerned from the Lord. I remember fasting and praying. Remember...well, I don’t need to get into that. So, the Lord made it clear, and so that’s an example of calling. That’s how I fulfill that command.
So, when it comes to make disciples of all nations...commands. Calling...it’s going to look different. So, J.D. and J.J. going to North Africa, and every one of us, when I say...this is what I want to make sure is really clear...when I say we need to pray and ask the Lord if He’s leading us in North Africa, that’s what we need to do. We have a command. Let’s put a blank check on the table. Who else is He leading to go North Africa with J.D. and J.J.? He will set apart some. So, we really ask. We really pray. We don’t just kind of casually...like we press in. “Lord, do you want me and my family to go to North Africa?” If you’ve not prayed that yet, pray that. So, pray that. You can trust God. He knows what He’s doing.
So, put a blank check on the table, and then we’ll see who He leads, but the last thing I want anybody to do is feel guilty...if the Lord doesn’t call them...to feel guilty for not going to North Africa. You don’t need to feel guilty for not going to North Africa if the Spirit hasn’t said, “Go to North Africa.” Likewise, Ben and Kiley in East Lake and all kinds of different families have said, “All right. Let’s pray. Put a blank check on the table. Is the Lord leading you to move down to East Lake or Gate City?” The Lord has raised up 20 plus families to move into East Lake and Gate City. So, we need to pray. If you’ve not prayed, pray. “Lord, are you leading me to do that?” If He doesn’t say, “Yes, I want you to go East Lake and Gate City,” don’t feel guilty for living in your home.
We looked at James 1:27. “We need to care for the orphan and the widow.” So, we put before you, an opportunity: foster care. If the Lord is leading you to do foster care as a way to carry this out, then let’s do it. So, many of you are doing foster care all across this faith family. Many of you are adopting all across this faith family. You don’t need to feel guilty if you’re not doing foster care if the Spirit has not led you to do that. Does that make sense? Command and calling.
So, continually, we are going to see opportunities before us. Our tendency is to take commands and turn them into callings. Make disciples. “Well, I’m not called to make disciples of all nations. I’m not called to that.” Yes, well yeah, you’re not called to it. You’re commanded to it. It’s a command, and then based on that, “All right, let’s pray through and this is what we’re fasting for.” We want continual direction in our lives in the church. How do we do this?
As we fast, we know...and this is my encouragement to you, to always be obedient to His commands. That’s a given. We’re always obedient to His commands. We don’t have to ask the Lord what He wants us to do when He’s already told us what to do. We just do it. Do it. As we are obedient to His command, then always be open to His calling. Blank check...with your life, with your family, with this church as we worship, and we pray, and we fast, and we say, “Spirit of God, whatever you want to do, do it.”
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material provided that you do not alter it in any way, use the material in its entirety, and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to the media on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Radical.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By David Platt. © David Platt & Radical. Website: Radical.net