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Accepting the Challenge of Worship

Acts 13-14

Jim Davis

In Acts 13 & 14 God opens the door for the gospel to be spread to the uttermost parts of the world. As I read these chapters, I realize that God never opens a door for us without empowering us to meet the challenge.

In Acts 13 Luke describes for us the condition of the world and the apostles response to it as they were led by and filled with the Holy Spirit. It is in this chapter that the gospel of Jesus Christ takes a crucial turn as the apostles began their journey into the rest of the known world under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit. The enabling power of God's Holy Spirit is too obvious to overlook as we observe the apostles facing the obstacles in their path. As Luke writes, the breath of God's life giving Spirit sweeps across every page of Acts; he guides every step taken by the apostles empowering them to do the impossible.

Often, as we read the book of Acts, we attempt to follow the actions of the apostles without understanding the motive and power behind the actions. Too rarely we recognize the power of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, which made the growth of the first century church possible. It is not easy to practice what they did, while denying ourselves the means of power for accomplishment.

The Holy Spirit was powerfully present in the church of the first century. His presence and guidance is desperately needed today. His power is present and available. There can be no real accomplishment without God's Spirit.

Ultimate Purpose of Worship

Acts 13:1-3
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 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." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (NIV)

Luke tells us that "they were worshipping the Lord and fasting". It is impossible to worship God without seeking his direction for your life. It is also impossible to truly worship God without discovering God's direction for your life. Praying and fasting in the New Testament is almost always associated with a need for God's direction and God's ability to do what Christians were called upon to do. Here in Acts 13 they didn't need a new knowledge of the gospel. They had been proclaiming the gospel in Jerusalem and the surrounding area for at least a decade. Later in the chapter, in the discourse to the citizens in Antioch of Pisidia, the same gospel was preached as was preached on Pentecost (13:13-40). They know the gospel, but they needed God's wisdom and power to direct their efforts to Galatia on that first missionary journey.

We could debate whether they are seeking God's direction or just worshipping God. Even if that is true, we must understand that they found God's direction for their lives through sincerely worshipping God.

God's direction for your life is important. Today we visualize the course we want to take and ask God to bless it. It may or may not be the direction God wants you to go. It is not unusual for someone to take a path in life they are stubbornly convinced they should take, but they wake up at the end of the path realizing they should have taken another.

From the opening of Luke's history of the church from Acts chapter 1 until this chapter, the apostles have been seeking and following God's direction. They were told to wait in Jerusalem to receive power from on high. They were directed by the scriptures to appoint someone to take Judas' place. Those on Pentecost seeking God were following God's direction as given through the Spirit guided apostles -- they continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine (2:42). They told those who arrested them "we must obey God." In Acts 8 Philip was told -- go meet the eunuch riding in a chariot. In Acts 10 Peter was directed to Cornelius' house. In Acts 12 the disciples pray for Peter's release and we see Peter released from prison as he followed the angels direction. All those seeking to worship God did so by following his directions.

However you seek to define worship, worship in its simplest terms, is seeking the wisdom and power of God to direct life's work. Only true worship can tune us into God's will and powerful direction for our lives.

Today many are seeking only the charisma of the Spirit, while others are shunning the Spirit altogether. Are we overlooking the Spirit's direction and power to change lives and empower efforts? If anyone is worried about where this kind of approach will lead, you must note that the presence of the Spirit's direction and power does not diminish our need to understand and proclaim the Word of God. The crucial point is the Spirit's direction empowered these men to boldly preach the Word of God as they boldly carried the message where it had never been. The Spirit empowered those taught as they listened to the Word of God, which the apostles proclaimed.

Acts 13:5-12
When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun." Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. (NIV)

Do you see the powerful direction in which they are going? It may amaze us in our age of miracle seeking, but the proconsul was interested in the teaching about the Lord --- the Word of God. In the ancient world sorcerers demonstrated their power to get a person's attention. The greater the demonstration of power, the more intent the listeners. It was an age of superstitious teaching and belief. The people gave heed because of the sorcerer's unbelievable powers. An example of this is found in the following verses.

Acts 8:9-11
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. (NIV)

The greater the demonstration, the greater the credibility. This was true from the time Moses was facing the Egyptian sorcerers to the chapter we are now studying. The sorcerers used their powers to persuade people to believe them. So the apostles came demonstrating the power of God. The sorcerer's power was no match for God's power. It is little wonder that the proconsul was interested in the Lord's teaching.

They were led to obey the word of God. Those listening to the proclamation of the gospel were not told to reproduce the miraculous works of the Spirit. When invited into the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia they proclaimed the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham through Jesus Christ. Paul said, "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus . . . Therefore, my brothers I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified . . ." (Acts 13:32). When they rejected the word, Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles" (13:46). Then Luke writes, "The Word of the Lord spread through the whole region" (13:49).

True Worship Empowers Our Lives.

In God's calling we find purpose and power. When we discover God's will for our lives we discover God's calling. "The Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." When we obey God's calling we discover the availability of the Spirit's power.

Many who go to the word of God for direction end up lost in the word. We have three engineers in the congregation where I preach. Two of them and myself got into a discussion about the dimmer panel and replacing the bulbs in the light fixtures. The discussion revolved around how much resistance light bulbs of different wattage would pull on the dimmer panel. They started discussing the technical intricate aspects of electricity and completely lost me. I think they lost their objectivity also. All I wanted to do was to screw some light bulbs in so I could have some light.

Theologians do this as they split hairs in religious debate. All we need is a little light. I have noticed that working with any of the three engineers we often get lost in details and lose our objectivity. (I am probably not going to use this illustration in this way Sunday, at least this boldly, all three will be in attendance.) I think that is what theologians have done to the Bible. I have to remind myself -- to "KISS" my sermons. (For those who have forgotten what "KISS" means: Keep It Simple Stupid.)

Do we make Bible study too complicated as we strive to plunge for depth and overlook the simple surface truths? Luke records Paul's sermon in Acts 13 in eight short paragraphs. When I look at the ground he covered from Abraham to Christ, I realize that it would be impossible to number the volumes written about the events of that epoch of time. However, Paul makes it simple and goes right to the point as he makes his sermon personal. Paul wasted no time in revealing the relevancy of the message.

Acts 13:38-41
"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: "'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'" (NIV)

What a profoundly, simple, personal and penetrating message. In eight short paragraphs Luke records the gospel of liberation. There is nothing complicated about it. There is no argument over what the Holy Spirit is doing or what part the word of God is playing or how the message should be proclaimed, etc. The only problem they had is the same problem we have today ---- persuading people to obey the message of grace. "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles" (13:46). Disobedience denies us the ability and power of God's Spirit to salvage our lives in the present for eternity.

There is a powerful liberation awaiting those who honor the word of God. The Gentiles are hungry and they need little prodding to get them to the feast. They were not so consumed with discussing their differences that they lost sight of the purpose of the message.

Acts 13:46-49
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. (NIV)

It is simple to see that honoring the Lord is to follow the direction of the word. When we do, the power of God's Spirit is present.

True Worship Doesn't Eradicate Problems

Following the Spirit's direction does not eradicate life's problems. Right off the ship they met Elymas the child of the devil and an enemy to everything that was right, full of deceit and perversion. If that isn't enough the relationships of those journeying together were frayed and John Mark deserted them in Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem. The contention was so great that Paul refused to take him with him on the second trip. (Acts 15:38) As I look at Paul's personal problem with John Mark, I also realize problems are not always solved as expedient as we might think, even by those led by the Spirit of God. As Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus, he writes, "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV). He did solve his problem but it took time.

Later as Paul writes to the Galatians, Paul reveals a personal problem he had while on this first missionary journey.

Galatians 4:13-15
As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. (NIV)

Some speculate that this problem may have been the thorn in Paul's flesh that he prayed to God three times to remove (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). He was simply told that God's grace was sufficient in his weakness. Whether the connection between all these incidents can be made or should be made is a matter of debate. But the simple surface level truth is that God's grace most certainly and sufficiently sustains each of us.

So much for the modern idea, if you do what is right, you won't suffer wrong. In addition to these problems, Jews who rejected the message stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from the region. As they entered Iconium both Gentiles and Jews were planning to stone them and mistreat them. They fled to Lycaonian and continued to preach the good news where they were hailed --- God forbid --- as gods. Jews came from Antioch to Iconium and won the crowd over and stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city and left him for dead. What a confusing world --- hailed as gods one moment --- stone to death the next. They went from the Penthouse to outhouse in a matter of moments.

So much for twentieth century discipleship, where feelings are hurt and they leave the church for life. I got an email the other day informing me about the growth of a congregation. They had gotten a new preacher and gained 25 members in less than two months. They had placed membership from another congregation. But they had just gotten those back who had left mad at the other preacher. I know the church well, and the members have been doing this for over twenty years. This kind of superficial commitment will never discover God's power for succeeding. But those who get them back rejoice over the numbers and contribution.

As I read this account I see a message for preachers who are fired in one church for preaching the truth and refuse to ever set foot in the pulpit again. So much for those who preach because they are hailed as gods.

The power of God's Spirit resurrects us from the deadness of our problems. When Paul is resurrected after being stoned to death, the apostles return to Antioch by way of the cities they had just been ran and dragged out of. As they meet the disciples who had believed their message they encouraged them to remain true to the faith saying, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." The problems encountered by the apostles and first century Christians drove the faithful ones deeper into God's will.

A friend, Barbara Wilson, lived on a street called "Southern Comfort" and another friend of mine lived on a street named "Easy Street". While I was growing up as a child, I lived on a road, now called "Davis" road. Barbara buried her husband unexpectedly while she lived on Southern Comfort. The friend on Easy street is dead. Just about everyone I knew as I grew up who lived on Davis Road is dead. I have noticed something, life is no easier on Southern Comfort street, or Easy Street than it is on Davis Road. As I study this first missionary journey, I learn that life isn't all that easy living on God's Way. However, there is a certain joy found in living on God's Way that makes the dead ends on Southern Comfort, Easy Street and Davis Road worthwhile.

They were committed to the finish, as they trusted God's leading. What a simple committed persevering faith to follow the direction of the Spirit. "From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples" (Acts 14:26-28).

Notice the emphasis on God's power in these verses: "On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." They realized God's power because they sought it through worship, prayer and fasting as they hungered for his direction.

Notice the joy as you read through the difficulties. "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (13:52). "They continued to preach the good news" (14:6). "They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (14:21). "They reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." They returned to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed (14:26). Do you see that joy running through each encounter and as they arrive home after successfully completing the Spirit's assignment. What a joy!

Ephesians 3:16-19
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (NIV)

There is a great joy in knowing what God is doing through you as you follow his directions. Even if he is not trying to win the world through your efforts, he is salvaging your soul. What a reason to rejoice in difficulties of life's challenges.


As I look at this story I see the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I see the Spirit directing the apostles work, I see the Spirit working miracles through the disciples, I see the Spirit's guidance enabling Paul and Barnabas to preach as they were led through the difficulties in each city. I also see the apostles filled with the power and joy of the Holy as they are motivated, led and enabled by the Spirit.

We can only experience this joy by being motivated, led and enabled by the Spirit as we are filled with the Holy Spirit, as we determine to be obedient to God's direction given through his word.  

Ephesians 5:18
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (NIV)

The Holy Spirit seeks to fill you as you surrender your life to the direction of God's word. Obedience won't relieve you from the hardships of life, but it will usher you into the presence of God as he directs your steps upward. That is the greatest joy of life.The joy of the liberating power of God.

Have you experienced God's power and grace in your personal struggles? Be sure to take the prophets warning serious." Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: "'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'" (13:41)

Bible Study Questions

1.      What is the motive and power behind the apostles’ actions throughout their missionary journeys?

2.      What happened as the disciples were fasting and praying? Is it impossible to truly worship God without discovering God’s direction for your life?

3.       What have the disciples been doing through prayer and fasting in the first twelve chapters of Acts?

4.      What would you say to those who seek to replicate the actions of the apostles without the presence of the Holy Spirit?

5.      What would say to those who seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit without seeking to follow the Spirit’s teaching?

6.      What would you say to those who seek to teach the word of God without helping people find God’s direction for their lives?

7.      What does it mean that the Gentiles “were glad and honored the word of God . . .?” (Acts 13:46-49).

8.      What is worship in its simplest terms?

9.      What is the message to us today about the power of God in Acts 13:5-12? What do we discover when we obey God’s calling?

10.  How easy is it to get lost in a study of the word of God?

11.  Is the gospel every proclaimed without difficulties?

12.  What were the disciples filled with despite their troubles? (Acts 13:52)




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