This past week as I have been thinking about today as Palm Sunday. I have been asking my Lord how he wants to use this Sunday to speak into our lives. As we think about Palm Sunday, what are the images and lessons that we hold onto as we think about this time in the Lord’s ministry.
Perhaps the first thing we often see are the palm branches. We visualize celebrations in the streets. We see the image of our Lord riding on a donkey into the city. Perhaps the lessons we take away from this moment in time is the betrayal that is noted between this moment and that of when these same people are crying crucify him. Perhaps it is glorious entrance of the King of Kings. Perhaps it is in the understanding that our Lord knew what he was about to face in this moment.
As I contemplated this moment in our Lord’s ministry I embraced the truth that this was a new chapter in our Lord’s ministry. That up until now our Lord spoke into the life of his disciples and followers. That he used his life to illustrate to those who would follow what it meant to live a glorious life in this broken world. However in this moment our Lord began a new chapter to give all of mankind a new beginning. A beginning without sin. A beginning to experience all that he had just illustrated in his ministry.
Last week we passed a church vote on the renaming of our church as we reform a new vision and calling for our church. It was a big step for many of you and although it still has to go the District for approval, I am excited to see this new chapter in our church and our lives. Acts was a new chapter in the life of the church and through the faith of the men and women of God in that moment, our Lord changed the world forever. It was this new chapter in their life that changed their hearts, changed their perspectives, changed the lives of those around them, and in that brought the fulfillment of Christ into the life of humanity. This morning, as you have come here I want you to ask yourself what is this new chapter in my life. There have been many times in my life where I have looked back upon it wondering why I had failed to engage in the moment losing out on a special time that I would remember forever. This morning, I don’t want you to face that same regret in your life. Looking back upon this moment in your life and in our church, regretting that you did not trust in our Lord or that you had failed to step out of the boat with your brothers and sisters around you. This morning, what is this new chapter in your life?
What is God asking of you? Where is he wanting you to go? What is wanting you to hear and see? Where is he wanting you to change? What does he want to see in you? What is this new chapter in your heart?
Scripture – Acts 13:1-12 (ESV)
Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
Now 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. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Barnabas and Saul on Cyprus
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 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? 11 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. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Here in this passage in the first 3 verses we see a very diverse group of believers, leaders in the church.
- Simeon who was called Niger. In that day Niger meant black and he was presumably a black African among the congregation at Antioch. He is also possibly the same Simeon who carried Jesus’ cross (Luke 23:26).
- Manaen was an individual who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch. This was the same Herod who out of lust for his daughter beheaded John the Baptist and presided over one of Jesus’ trials (Luke 23:7-12). Although Herod and Manaen grew up together, Manaen experienced the presence of God. Whereas, Herod died in Jericho, after an excruciatingly painful, putrefying illness of uncertain cause, known to posterity as “Herod’s Evil”. Josephus states that the pain of his illness led Herod to attempt suicide by stabbing himself.
- Lucius of Cyrene was a Greek who is one of the spiritual leaders in the early church in Antioch. He is known to be the first bishop of Cyrene.
- Saul, is an individual that we have studied throughout the book of Acts where we have seen him to hunt Christians down in their homes to kill and imprison them, yet we see him here in this passage to be one the men to go to Cyprus to start the church.
- Barnabas is an individual that we have also previously met in the book of Acts. He was from Cyprus as well but was a Levite as well. Having grown up in Jewish tradition and served in the synagogue and yet we see him giving all that he had to see the hand of God in his life at the end of Acts 4.
These men have each their own story an illustration of God’s grace and love in their lives yet as we see in this scripture our Lord uses these men to reach into the life of the people in Cyprus and Antioch to rock the world around them. One of the key illustrations that I love from this passage is that God does not expect perfection. He creates perfection. All he expects is a heart of repentance and submission to his will. Each of these men had grown up and failed at times to see the very presence of God in their lives. They were murders, they had grown up in murderous, debauched households. They came from very different backgrounds. They were Africans, Greeks and Israelites. They came from various theological backgrounds, and understandings. All of this did not matter, because God had grabbed their souls and had moved them to experience a new chapter in their lives and a new chapter in the church.
This is such an incredible truth for you and me today. It doesn’t matter where you have come from, what sin you have lived or what culture you have lived our Lord desires to reveal a new creation in each of us. And as He creates a new creation in us, he desires to use us as his new creation for his glory. All of these men were used in mighty ways for our Lord’s glory not because they were great men but because they were moldable to the presence of God in their lives. Isaiah 64:8 tells us, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter, we are all the work of your hand.” Why is it that too often we as the clay try to define what we should look like in Christ. We tell God what we can do and what we can’t. We even define programs to define what we can do in ministry based on the strengths that we have in his life. If God wants you to do anything in this life, he will always give you the strength and the resources you need to do what he has commanded you. Whether it is to forgive someone, to love someone, to live a joyful life, to be forgiven, to preach to thousands of his children or sing to his glorious name. Whether you have a strength in this area or not, our God is a God of miracles and if you and I just trust in his ways, the chapters of our lives will be glorious and miraculous in his name.
True to our Purpose
In the very next portion of this passage we see as an magician called Elymas tries to turn those who were seeking after our Lord away from the truth that is Jesus. Saul seeing what this man was doing looks intently upon this man who had chosen to oppose the King of Kings, and pronounces blindness upon this magician. In this moment not only is this magician’s life forever changed but those who see the hand of God are moved to seek after the face of our Lord. Here in this passage of scripture we see two truths that we need to understand as believers.
- As illustrated by David in 1 Samuel 24 and here in this passage, we are called not to come against the work of God. Even as David illustrated, when those who have gone astray are anointed by God; we are called not to come against them but to leave them in the hands of our Lord. However here in this passage Saul and Barnabas had not gone astray, so to come against the work was not against these men but rather against the work of God. When we stand against the work of God we are putting our lives into jeopardy.
- As believers we are called to stand against those that try to separate us from the presence of our Lord. Sometimes these individuals can be very evident in our lives and sometimes they are snakes in the grass trying erode the good work of our Lord out of our lives. Either way, those that separate us or those around us from the presence of God are not standing against us but are standing opposed to the work of the Lord in our midst. As Hebrews 10:31 tells us “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
In this life Satan desires to take that which will change our lives into God’s goodness by opposing his work in which ever way he can. That is why our Lord tells us in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be sober minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” In this instruction ware are called to be;
– Sober minded
Self-mastery (“soberly” in NKJV) is self-government or self-control, the foundation of a strong godly life, growth, and producing fruit. If a person cannot govern himself, if he cannot master his passions, he will certainly not have a good relationship with his fellowman or God. His life will likely be marked by major excesses.
Watchful is a spiritual awareness through the use of our minds and the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives. It means waiting for the coming of our Lord but always aware of separating ourselves from those things in our lives that separate our lives from the presence of our Lord.
– Resist him
Resisting means to fight. It does not mean to entertain or embrace. Too often we look to play with the things in this world, but too often we find that these things pull us away from the presence of our Lord before we even realize it. Resist means to not entertain but to embrace those spiritual truths in our lives that give us strength to fight the sin that tries to remove us from this presence.
– Firm in our faith
Firm in our faith is embraced through three measures. It is embraced through scriptural engagement, though Bible study, through reading, through understanding and application. Becoming firm in our faith requires a life a prayer, listening to the heart of God for our lives and conveying our heart’s desires into his presence. Becoming firm in our faith requires a life of worship. This is experienced in song, in the uplifting of our souls into his presence, in even just the one on one conversation between our Lord and us.
These are not instructions to watch and wait but to stand up in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and stand against the evil of this world. It is then that we will experience the fullness of our Lord’s desire in our lives and will reveal to those around us the will of God for their lives as well.
Lastly this morning, I want to finish off this sermon by focusing on what is the rest of chapter 13. Throughout the remainder of chapter 13 we see as Paul preaches a sermon in verse 16. Paul rather than focusing on the great theological truths of our Lord, rather focuses his sermon on where the people are and what they understand. He doesn’t try to blow their minds with these great theological understandings but rather tells them their story, where they have come from and what our Lord has come to do in their lives. He climaxes the truth to those around him by pointing out to them in verse 32, that Paul and Barnabas have come to bring them the good news that was promised to their fathers. It is in these truths that we see in verse 42 of this passage that the people begged them to tell them these things again the next sabbath and in verse 48 the Gentiles were found to be rejoicing and glorifying the word of our Lord.
I love this passage of scripture, because it gives each of us hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. It means that we don’t have to be these great theological heavy weights in the church to change the hearts of those around us. Remember, these men are not the greatest in the world. They have not gone to a great theological university. They are not the leaders of the city in Antioch. They don’t even give this great sermon. They just tell the people about what had been promised and revelation that is Jesus Christ. They didn’t wear great robes or ties on the Sunday. They weren’t on church boards. They just love the Lord their God with all their heart mind and strength and they wanted to share all that had been revealed to them to those around them. Not to make them any less, but to give them the same hope that they had experienced.
This morning, as you have been considering what our Lord wants to reveal in this new chapter in your life, I pray that you have seen these truths revealed in this chapter this morning.
That new chapters are experienced, when we experience an changed soul. That it is not about putting on the false masks of this world or religions, but experiencing a changed heart. This means a heart that experiences the forgiveness of God and turns away from that which has carried our souls for so long. It is then that we can experience a new chapter in our life and then that a new chapter can be experienced in the lives of those around us.
New chapters are experienced in our lives when we remain true to the purpose and instruction of our Lord in our lives. When we are sober minded, watchful, resist evil and remain firm in our faith. This does not always make us the popular Christian on the block but reveals a new chapter that holds true to the person of our Lord. As it says in Matthew 7:14, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Finally new chapters are experienced in our lives when we reveal honesty in our lives to those around us. It is not about the great sermons or amazing sons, or incredible programs, but about the truth that is revealed through our lives. New chapters are revealed in our lives when we are honest with ourselves, with God and real with those around us. It is then that we experience Christ and then that we reveal Christ