Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord. When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)
During this time some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.Acts 11:19-30
So which is it do you think? Is it that the Book of Acts is a Manual for Missionary Method or is the Book of Acts all about believers learning to be witnesses of the life that is within them. I think it is the latter. I think we don’t have Paul and Barnabas Manual nor Paul and Silas’s nor Barnabas and Mark’s, Phillip’s nor any other manual of the Apostles for a reason. Imagine if we had! We would spend our lives formulating the structures and the procedures and ordering the methodology to determine what it is we should do each step of the way. But in so doing we would organise God out of the equation. Isn’t that what the children of Israel in the Old Testament kept doing over and over and over. The Book of Judges is full of it. The Kings and Chronicles chronicle for us the error of their ways. God told them when they asked for a king that they didn’t need a king, they had Him, the King of Kings. But still they insisted to go it their own way and conforming to the world around them. Even to the point of turning the Ark of the Covenant into a magic box of God’s presence. They thought if they took the symbol with them, then they would win the victory. But God taught them a lesson in the error of that mode of thinking when the Ark was captured by the Philistines and the blessing of God’s presence was transferred to the house of Obed Edom. It is all so interesting isn’t it? The same old . . . same old and still we don’t wake up and get it. Are we any better?
Jesus told us: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to Me! Yet you refuse to come to Me to receive this life. (John 5:39-40)
No amount of internalising the manual will get you there. In this case the manual is only the pointer to the Manual Maker. Remember as I have told you before that Moses learned the secret. He asked to know God’s ways. Moses wanted to understand the way in which God worked. So the Psalmist told us in Psalm 103:7 that Moses knew God’s ways while the children of Israel only knew His acts. Many people see what God does from a distance or vicariously through other people’s testimony, instead of being able to internalise the ways of God for themselves. That is what the Book of Acts is all about. It’s about learning to be witnesses and after you have experienced for yourself then you go out and be the witness you were born to be. It is all about practicing living and moving and having your being in God. The God who indwells you by His Spirit, that same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. It is this that was actualized inside the disciples when they began to grasp the principle of what it was all about. The were turned from timid, frightened learners (disciples) hiding out in the upper room into bold, fearless apostles (practitioners) who no longer feared what the authorities or anyone else could do to them. It no longer mattered. They had become witnesses to the life that was within them. Little has changed.
It was far more important that these new believers actually learned how to believe and keep on believing and in doing that become witnesses of the power that was within. That is what the book of Acts is all about. Remember Jesus said, You will BE my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the outer most parts of the earth. That is how and why the book of Acts is written. Its about witnesses learning to be witnesses. Its about one after another of them learning to step out fearlessly and be who they were called to be and in so doing realising the power of Christ within. When you slavishly follow the manual point by point it loses the spontaneity of the life God intended. I am sure when Saul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch they taught the new believers to be true disciples (learners) in Christ.
Go back through the book of Acts now and look at the nature of what has been happening. Find for yourself how many times the disciples are taught to discern the presence or should I say the involvement of the Spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit. Each place this new move goes the things that happen follow the same pattern. It is the pattern of the book of Acts. It is how Peter, Phillip, Saul, Barnabas tell if this is truly an extension of the work of the Holy Spirit or not. They learn to discern and how to recognise the indications that Spirit of God is involved. Not only do they see the signs, the miraculous in the things that happen but they learn to discern when those same signs are being faked. It happens over and over. Do you notice that thread in what Luke wrote for us? Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God (which includes you ladies as well). Oh alright I will rephrase that to make it more specific. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons and daughters of God. It is all about living and moving and having your being in Him. Jesus told us that He didn’t do anything that He did not see His Father in heaven doing. He simply followed the will of the Father. Touche, there it is. It is all about learning to hear the voice of the Spirit and to follow His lead. To the point where you can say to any human authority, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than Him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) There is it again. That’s a true witness.
I would suggest that you go back through the Book of Acts from Chapter One to Chapter Eleven looking for these elements and put it together for yourself. God is growing witnesses and training them to be true witnesses. Peter is training witnesses and preparing Cornelius’ and others. Saul is beginning his ministry with the same focus. Philip did it in Samaria and imparted the process to the Ethiopian Court Official to go do the same. This pattern is increasing and multiplying across the region even to ends of the earth. At that stage to the extremities of the then-known-world. But now you know the true extent of the world. You here in New Zealand are sitting on the edge of it. But the message is that the pattern and the process hasn’t changed one bit. It is all about learning to be a witness. I love the story of the atheist who asked a famous Bible scholar what he knew after years of studying the Bible. The scholar replied. “Jesus loves me this I know.” To which the atheist replied. “You mean after decades of studying the depth of the Bible the best you can come up with is that ‘Jesus loves you’?” “No, I said this I know!”
Do you want assurance of salvation? Go work out your salvation in fear and trembling.
Work on your ability to trust Jesus to do everything you need step by step. That’s what faith is all about. It’s walking a believing relationship in Him. That is what these new believers were learning in the process of learning to be witnesses. How about you? Read the Acts 1 – 11 with that in mind. But be careful, it will likely change your life. Do it if you dare!
“Jesus loves me this I know.” Have you reached the stage of really knowing?Ian Vail
“You search the Scriptures daily because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to Me! Yet you refuse to come to Me to receive this life.John 5:39-40
“Whatever He says to you, do it.”John 2:5
“For in Him we live and move and exist.”Acts 17:28 NLT
Have you ever stopped to think why the Book of Acts doesn’t have a final chapter. Why not?Ian Vail