“Bread on the Table”
30 May 2004
Texts: Acts 13:1-12, John 21:15-25
It really seemed entirely simple: we were going to Michigan for Samantha’s graduation. The Monday following her graduation, there was a pastors’ conference called Basics 2004 at Allistair Begg’s church, Parkside in the greater Cleveland area. Lynne could return with five children. Taylor and I would take in the conference. The theme of the conference was “Preaching Christ.“ My prayer was very brief: “Lord, I want to know you better.” So the Lord gave me a wonderful commencement, a convicting and insightful conference and a heart attack. And the result: I know Him much, much better. It was and is a life-changing experience. For instance, I remember lying in the emergency room--staring my mortality in the face. Despite the reassurances of the medical personnel that I had made the right decision, I was in the right place and that they could take it from here, I was terrified. I had lots of time for urgent prayer. I used that prayer time well. One exchange went something like this, “Lord, if this is it. . .if I’ve preached my last sermon and said my final goodbyes to my wife and family--for only Taylor was with me during this time--why did you show me so much love, and teach me so much truth at the conference?” He said, “Trust Me. I will be restoring you to your family soon. I will give you a second chance to feed my sheep. For now, surrender to Me, your entire life is in My hands.” Then, I remembered my prayer to know Him better and I relaxed. I entered His rest and I was filled with gratitude for Him. “Thank you, Lord, please give me wisdom, courage and help me express my gratitude.” From the moment I entered the emergency room to my discharge from University Hospital, I met a long string of kind, competent and fine people. I prayed with some and for all. The more I prayed the more refreshed I became. And, if the truth be known, I had also encountered at Parkside Church a similar band of godly people, all kind and competent--with the result that I experienced the finest pastoral and medical attention the Great Physician could have ordered.
Now I recollect with amazement the closing chapter of the gospel of John. Peter is another of those second-chance guys. The Lord asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” Yes, it is about erasing the three-fold denial of Peter during Christ’s passion. But for us it’s about much more than that. It is about expressing our love of Christ by caring for others, particularly by “feeding” His sheep. And with what shall we feed these sheep? We shall feed them by preaching Christ, and Him crucified. We shall feed them by placing spiritual food before them constantly and consistently, by the clear declaration of the gospel. For the truth is we are all beggars looking for bread. And evangelism is, at the root, merely one beggar telling another where the bread is. And the power is where the word is preached. It has nothing to do with me, I am merely another beggar like you. It has nothing to do with my training, or my past, my limitations or my strengths but everything to do with exalting Him. Jesus declared, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” True, He was referring to His crucifixion--so we, like Paul, preach Christ and Him crucified--but He is also declaring His presence in all of Scripture--”all things pertaining to Himself in Moses and the prophets.” And that “bread” is what we are to serve up on this table.
A few weeks ago I began preaching through Acts. Here’s what you need to know about that first missionary tour. When our Lord determined that the time of captivity for His sheep in Asia Minor needed to be ended, He sent His Holy Spirit to the church in Antioch saying, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) The church there was obedient. It wasn’t a humanly devised strategy. It was a divine initiative by which God declared His concern for the lost in Asia Minor! It is as if He were saying, “The famine is over. I’m going to send fodder to My sheep there. This is the purpose that I had in anointing Paul and Barnabas in the first place. Yes, they are apt teachers, but they are My chosen instruments to achieve My purpose of redemption. So the record in Acts isn’t primarily about what Paul said, or did; it is about how Christ came to be proclaimed in Asia Minor. God was then, and is now in the salvation business. His love for the lost must become our own. We can extrapolate from our own need to the desperation of others! We are weak, trembling vessels. But our God, who is strong unto salvation, uses us in our weakness to feed His lost ones.
We may cry out, “Lord, you can’t mean me. I’m such a mess. I can’t even balance my check book! I wouldn’t know how to pack for such a trip.” He just smiles and says, “I know. I arranged it like that. You don’t need to pack and the expenses are on Me.” If we don’t see ourselves as needy, if we don’t acknowledge that we’re a mess, we are ill-equipped to walk in the “works” which God has prepared for us to walk in--we may go out foolishly in our own strength, or, worse, we may boast that we did this or that, when the truth is that our success is all of God. He’s the One who never fails. He’s the One who accomplishes all things perfectly and in order.
Let’s pause and consider how Paul, Barnabas and John Mark went first to Cyprus “sent forth by the Holy Ghost.” (v.4) Didn’t we just read that the church sent them away? Well, yes, we did. The love of Christ for the lost was so great that not only were these three “separated” to their call, or anointing, they were also sent forth by the church in submission to the revealed will of God. In Salamis, Cyprus, they preached the word of God. What word? The word regarding the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. How Jesus came to offer salvation, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who would believe! In the synagogues of the Jews, they declared that the time was fulfilled for God to enact all the promises of His eternal covenant! This is the gospel, the great good news which I trust that you have heard. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself--God was offering us His mercy, extending His love and revealing His truth in Jesus, the long awaited Messiah. You, if you have received Christ as Lord and Savior, must resonate with the joyous energy of this disclosure. Do you not rise up each day more confident because you know the God you worship keeps His covenant? He promises to fulfill and to complete what He has begun in you? God has declared Himself to be your shield and protector, so you are free from fear of rejection, or disapproval! And you have even been set free from the dominion of death. That, and much more is the word of God that Paul and his companions shared with the Jews in Cyprus. The same stuff that you are to be sharing with the lost in your neighborhoods! Remember, we put bread on this table, so that you can put bread on your table--we feed you so that you go out and feed others, the sheep at your gates.
Now, there will be opposition to this feeding business. Why? Well, if you are offering good bread, you can be sure that the vendors of junk food are going to get jealous, if not threatened. The gospel is inherently disruptive. Sergius Paulus is a case in point. He was on a junk food diet of superstition and magic. A false prophet named Elymas, who made his living by supplying that junk food for Sergius, opposed Paul and Barnabas and through them the word of God. Now I want to stress that the contestants here are not Elymas versus the apostles--nor, in your real life situations, is it any different--the contestants are Elymas and the Holy Spirit. Wherever conversion is an imminent possibility, perversion shows up. Therefore Paul, full of the Holy Spirit, says to Elymas: "You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” Under the anointing of the Spirit, Paul sets forth very plainly where the battle lines are--those who like Elymas oppose the word of God are indeed sons of the devil, they are the enemies of righteousness and they walk in perversity. You are under no obligation to give bread to these people, to the demonically inspired, to those who openly oppose God. The bread is for the sheep. Paul continues, “"And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time." And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. “ This is what we call a power encounter. It had the effect of bringing Sergius to belief and, therefore, we must conclude that it is both godly and worth it. This is a war and in it we will see casualties. I can assure you the other side is not reluctant to count its victims.
All this is under divine constraint and intention. Note please this phrase, in verse 13 “loosed from Paphos” Paul and his team are sent to Antioch of Pisidia. It parallels the phrase “sent forth” in verse 4, telling us that the whole mission was bounded by the purpose of Christ to reach the lost on Cyprus. This is very encouraging because it means that when Paul and company completed what they were sent to do, they were dispatched elsewhere for another mission of mercy. Cyprus was urban, civilized and tame compared to the wild, wooly frontier of their next assignment in Roman Galatia. A program of pacification was in progress there which wouldn’t be completed for another 25 years. Roman garrisons and troops were present as occupying forces in that region to insure law and order and to keep the brigands, armed thieves and robbers who plagued that region, under control. Crucifixion was one of the cruelest of sanctions reserved for robbers and rebels--those who threatened either the world of commerce or Roman rule. It was perhaps the rough nature of the conflict on Cyprus, or the prospect of such dangers ahead that may have influenced John Mark to return home to Jerusalem. At this time--politics, education, society and religion were much more highly developed in the more urban centers. These dangers, however, were real. Paul may have alluded to them in his phrase “perils of waters, perils of robbers” in 2 Cor. 11:26. And part of Paul’s dismay over this separation may have been the immature faith of John Mark that he could be persuaded to so distrust the zeal of the Lord so much.
The love of the Lord for the lost acknowledges no hindrances. There are no obstacles, from willful opposition to simple immaturity, that He is unwilling or unable to overcome! Still, in the cities of Galatia, evangelism was hardly a cake-walk. Christianity, the new kid on the block, was disliked for a variety of reasons. Why? Well, one reason is that Christianity had the impact of disrupting existing social relations. Today, in India, one of the most forceful oppositions to Christianity comes from the caste system of the Hindu’s. The “untouchables” are an integrated part of the economy, of how things get done. The lower castes perform services that the upper castes find vital, but distasteful. In Christianity, there are no castes! In Islamic culture, women are second-class citizens; they have fewer opportunities and civil rights. Again, our gender equality in Christ disrupts the Islamic way of doing things. The Jews found Christian repudiation of legalism and dead works offensive. And, incidentally, so do the neo-pagans of our own day. Christianity is not pluralistic, even though it is truly tolerant. Our adherence to the biblical standard of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is under assault this very day by some who find the Christian position offensive. Christian opposition to abortion threatens the reproductive rights industry in America. These tensions go a long way towards explaining the nearly universal persecution of Christians from the beginnings in Jerusalem. We also know that 2 Tim 3:10-12 is true on an individual level:
But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance,
2 Tim 3:11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me!
2 Tim 3:12 And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
After Paulus’ conversion, the missionaries sail to Perga (13: 13a) and they part company. Paul appears to have some debilitating illness, perhaps chronic malaria fever (Gal 4:13) which affects his vision and, perhaps, gave him intense, stabbing headaches. So, there may have been health reasons contributing to the decision to travel up to the cool plateau of Taurus, some 3,500’ above sea level, and on to Pisidian Antioch. This city, of Seleucid origin, was a Roman colony-the governing/military center of Galatia. It was politically Galatian, but geographically and linguistically it was Phrygian. It contained a large population of Jews because the disposition of Rome towards Jews outside of Jerusalem and Judea had been highly favorable since the time of Julius Caesar at least.
Paul and Barnabas enter the synagogue on their first Sabbath. Some commentators have suggested that the texts for that occasion may have been Deut. 1 and Isaiah 1 due to allusions in Paul’s sermon which follows. This is the first full summary of a Pauline sermon. The theme: How God brought Israel the Messiah, our Savior. The sermon falls into three parts: first, the Old Testament preparation (vv.16-25) in which Paul moves quickly from the patriarchs to the monarchs, covering 450 years of God‘s marvelous provision and preparation for the gospel. Then, Paul leaps over many centuries covering the exiles and the salvation of the remnant, indeed from David to Jesus who is David’s descendant after the flesh and the Son of God after the Spirit. Paul, secondly, focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus as the completion of God’s covenant promise (vv.26-37) through the citation of three passages: Psalm 2:7 which establishes the Messiah as God’s Son, Isaiah 55:3 which expresses the blessing promised to the Davidic line and Psalm 16:10 which declares that God’s Holy One will not see decay. The sermon then concludes (vv. 38-41) with presenting the choice of life or death. Paul declares that forgiveness is proclaimed through Jesus, that justification is available through faith in Jesus (not through the Law which had proved impossible). And, from Hab. 1.5 a warning embedded in a prophecy:
"Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- You would not believe if you were told.
The initial response to this sermon in Antioch was extraordinary and huge crowds appeared the following Sabbath. This popularity aroused the jealousy of the Jewish leaders. And these men, enmeshed in their flesh, opposed the word of God through Paul and Barnabas, “judging themselves to be unworthy of everlasting life’ (v. 46). In brief, their fleshy reaction to Paul’s preaching reveals their true hearts. By this we learn that the rejection of Christ is always deliberate--validating the prophecy uttered by Simeon in Luke 2:
Luke 2:30 For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Luke 2:31 Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, Luke 2:32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel."
Luke 2:34 . . ."Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- Luke 2:35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul-- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
Equally sad is their abdication of their role as a priestly nation, their abandonment of that high calling before God as prophesied in Isaiah 49:6:
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
Still, God used the Jewish opposition there to move His agenda of bringing bread to the hungry forward. The whole area around Antioch became aware of the controversy as the word of the Lord spread--and, of course, the persecution intensified. While this passage doesn’t explicitly state it, Paul and Barnabas were probably driven out violently (2 Tim 3 again).
So, it comes to you The high adventure of real faith lies before you. Will you heed the summons to exalt Christ with your all? Will you choose to put real bread on the table in your church, your home, your outreach? Do you want to love that much, to the live the kind of life-changing life that Paul lived? You may. Once your heart is infused with a Christ-like passion for service, a love for Christ and a love for those He came to die for, all the resources of heaven are at your disposal. Nothing will be too difficult for you. In His service your reputation doesn’t matter. Your past doesn’t matter. Your weakness, your age or disability. . .none of that matters. The gospel itself is all that matters. Besides. Jesus will take whatever you offer up and gloriously use it to advance the kingdom of God. He will make you bold, fearless and powerful for His Name’s sake. The book of Acts is not over, the chapter on East Winthrop is still being written! You have an important role to play in that unfolding drama.