Lesson 35: Letters Sent to the Gentile Brethren/Paul Departs On 2nd Missionary Journey

Acts 15:23-41

Turn to Acts 15:23. We want to read the letter the Jerusalem church wrote to the Antioch church. It begins in the middle of verse 23. Are you ready? The apostles and elders and brethren send greetings unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. You might want to turn your tape player off and re-read that a couple more times. We have already said, it is addressed to the Gentile brethren. Those at Antioch, where this dispute arose, are represented at this meeting by Paul, Barnabas, Titus, AND OTHERS. It seems only natural to me they would add Syria after Antioch, because that is the province (or state) in which Antioch is located. But why Cilicia? Do you remember Paul's hometown of Tarsus, City # 7 on your map? Tarsus was located in Cilicia, which joined Syria on the northwest. It is true historically these two provinces went together as one country in the past But why include Cilicia in this letter? It is an interesting question, but I don't know the answer. Perhaps this idea, keeping the law of Moses, was more widespread than our text here indicates. And, if some Judaizing teachers went to Antioch from Jerusalem, teaching this false doctrine, possibly these apostles had wind of some who had gone beyond to Cilicia spreading their hobbies. Notice, the first pertinent information in this letter, (verse 24) is a DENIAL (a flat denial) THAT this doctrine of keeping the Mosaic law and being circumcised has anything to do with salvation. That doctrine did    NOT come from them, the apostles. And, notice again, they consider this doctrine as: subverting your SOULS. See that (in the middle of verse 24)? It was going beyond the doctrine of Christ, ADDING TO! The Ten Commandment law was the Magna Charta of Judaism, the covenant between the Jewish nation and Jehovah God. But it was fulfilled in Christ, blotted out and nailed to the cross, Col. 2:14 says. "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4) This same problem, mis same false doctrine, taught by the same Judaizing teachers is the THEME of the book of Galatians. Paul said they were perverting the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7). Yet, it is still with us today. Some build their doctrine around Sabbath worship, the fourth commandment. Some hang on the that tabernacle paraphernalia, burning of incense, lighting of candles, priests to mediate between God and man, David's instruments of music, observing special days such as Easter, Lent, Hanukkah, you-name-it. Paul said: "how turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, where unto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain." (Gal. 4:9-11). Notice (verse 28 in our text) the Holy Ghost concurred in the statements included in this letter. AND the letter itself affirms this. Then verse 29 contains those four points that we have discussed already. Points, that perhaps the Judaizing teachers emphasized were part of the Law of Moses. But as we have said already, they are binding on us today because they are part of Christ's law NOT because they were part of the Mosaic code. Lef s read verse 30-31-32. "So when they were dismissed they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Which, when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them." The letter was the last item of business in the Jerusalem meeting. Apparently, no time was wasted in getting it delivered to Antioch. Paul, Barnabas, Judas, Silas, Titus, and all others in that group of messengers hiked back into Antioch. Can you visualize what the meeting in Antioch must have been like? The crowd gathered! This was the climax to several weeks or even months of contention and turmoil in that congregation. It doesn't mention those Judaizing teachers who started this disagreement, but surely some of them were there. The letter was read. Can you imagine the silence that must have come over that place, as the words of an elder, who ever did the reading, reverberated across the room! A message from the H.S. "We have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying..." Can you visualize it? There must have been a few red faces. Can you picture the expression on Titus' face? (the test case?) as he studied the expression of the other brethren... and glanced out of the corner of his eye at those Judaizing teachers who had demanded that he be circumcised? And then, as a smile must have come across the face of all those honest and good hearts, who simply wanted to know the truth of God's desire. They rejoiced for the consolation, verse 31 says. Then Judas and Silas, one-by-one, made speeches. Exhorting and confirming the brethren according to verse 31. They must have gone into THOSE four points at the end of the letter with more detail. A beautiful ending to a tacky, disgruntled, presumptuous problem. How did they solve their problem and expose these false teachers? They appealed to the highest authority, God's word. Now, how can we solve tacky, divisive, doctrinal questions? YOU'VE GOT IT!!! Appeal to the highest authority, God's word! It's just that simple. People do not divide over what the Bible teaches! It's what the Bible doesn't, teach that causes division, contention, and disunity. It would be interesting to know the reaction of the Judaizing teachers. Luke and the Holy Spirit did not see fit to give us that information. Now, I would like for you to back off a step or two; look at this whole event at Antioch with one big sweeping glance. What really happened here? Some see in this a precedent    for    synods,    councils,    conventions,    and denominational legislation. I simply ask you, is it there? Absolutely not! They were simply trying to determine: What is God's will? We have the NEW TESTAMENT in written form; they did not. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." II Tim. 3:16-17.   What   does   it   mean   to   be   THOROUGHLY FURNISHED unto all good works? What else does it take? Peter said: God's "divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness... II Pet. 1:3. What else does it take? All it takes is a little study, plain old hard work, to dig it out, that's all! God's word will furnish us unto all good works Now! If it's not a good work, the answer may not be there. You may have to get some delegates together and write or revise a creed book; all denominations have one!   But that's not scripture, that's not inspired of God; that's doctrines and commandments of men. Oh! they had good intentions I'm sure. Those Judaizing teachers at Antioch had good intentions, I'm sure. They just wanted to help God out a little bit. Just make God's will a little more clear, so it would say WHAT THEY WANTED. Of course, that's adding to; that's adding their will to God's will. But, they hoped to get what THEY wanted, you see. And that's the whole point. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end there of are the ways of death." Proverbs 16:25. Someone has said: the streets of hell are paved with good intentions. Antioch, modern day U.S.A., eastern hemisphere, western hemisphere; "There is one body...one Lord...one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Eph.4:5-6). This Jerusalem    conference   was   not   some   denominational legislature. Lets read verse 33-34-35. "And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also." The brethren at Antioch must have expressed their appreciation Judas and Silas for taking the time and the initiative   to   come   to   Antioch   and   help   reconcile   the congregation back to full unity. Judas and Silas were, of course, free to go or stay as they chose. After a short time, Judas must have headed back to Jerusalem. He may have been a family man or had other obligations there. Silas, on the other hand, undoubtedly decided to stay at Antioch for a while. Possibly he did not have a family or pressing obligations in Jerusalem. Take a close look at verse 35; what do you see? If you could back-up in time and visit Antioch here; what would you expect? This was a large congregation. What would you find? Would you find one big stone edifice, one preacher, and a group of people playing church, CONDITIONED to make a jaunt or two to that revered place each week and then 90 their way and make little or no association with what happened there and their life, employment, habits, lifestyle, etc. What DO YOU think? First of all, you would probably have been disappointed with their meeting place. And notice, many were preaching, verse 35 says. Everybody, that had the capability, were teaching somebody else. Everybody was learning. There was   enthusiasm,   preaching,   classes,   studies;   one-on-one, benevolent activity, real genuine brotherly concern. It was not just s~ socially accepted thing to do! It was not just patriotic tradition. THOSE were real people, breathing, sensitive with red blood surging through their veins, families, marriage, children, problems, disease, and death. Life was not easy, they earned their bread by the sweat of their brow. They understood life at the grass roots. Hope in Jesus Christ was real to those people. Salvation to them carried with it the realization that Jesus suffered and died ON THEIR BEHALF. Obedience TO THEM was just natural respect. Heaven was a real place. Christianity   meant   everything.   Many   teachers:   verse   35 indicates. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, Titus, many others. Do you remember Acts 13:1? Simeon called Niger, Lucius, and Manaen! Antioch was blessed with teachers and preachers. Oh! They had to contend with a few false, Judaizing teachers. THEY will ALWAYS be with us. The fellowship at Antioch must have been good. Breaking bread from house to house and eating that gospel bird with gladness and singleness of heart.   Many   people   must   have   been   touched   and encouraged. And, Bro. Paul must have gotten in the mood for story telling once in a while; his trip to Arabia, how he escaped Damascus in a basket, that treacherous trip to southern Galatia. Teenagers always enjoy a little humor and a little fantasy. / don't know what the crime rate was, but in Antioch surely they didn't have as many saloons and beer-joints as we have. There were a lot of Christians in Antioch. You know, Antioch might not have been a bad place to live after those Judaizers got quieted down. But, Paul didn't want any grass growing under his feet. Let's read verse 36. "And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we 'have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do." Hill, at least Paul and Barnabas discussed leaving town without being stoned, chased out, or making a midnight departure. Thafs some progress!   Consider their motive. People concerned about people. Isn't that beautiful? A second missionary journey. Can you imagine wanting to go back to Lystra after being stoned and left for dead? Now that is REAL compassion. Paul couldn't rest at Antioch for thinking of his brothers and sisters in Christ left behind. He was concerned for their spiritual welfare. Barnabas! Let's go back; see how they do. Do you remember why they left Antioch on the first missionary journey? The H.S. "called them" according to Acts 13:2. They tried it; they liked it! There is nothing so compelling as real Christianity. Paul and Barnabas were true soldiers of the cross. Well, let's see how their plans are progressing. Let's read verse 37-41. "And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. Two good men: Paul and Barnabas. Luke said Barnabas "was a good man." (Acts 11:24). But good men do not always agree. We need to learn that. There were NO doctrinal disputes between Paul and Barnabas.   It was a personal matter. A matter of human judgment. Barnabas insisted on taking his nephew, John Mark. But, Paul thought it NOT good (verse '38). Which was right? Well it doesn't make any difference! Paul had his reason, Barnabas had his reason, AND both felt very strong about it. NOW they couldn't do both. Either one of them had to "give-in" OR separate. And the contention got pretty SHARP according to verse 39. So, "They departed asunder one from the other." Isn't that terrible? Not really! Here are two grown men, they are not married to each other. They had been good friends for several years, and that's great. But, this doesn't mean they won't be good friends any longer. We can disagree and still respect each other. That's one of the hallmarks of a good man. Each one, will give the other space enough to operate. Abraham told Lot: "...if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left." Gen. 13:9. Paul and Barnabas did not cease to be good friends. Paul and John Mark did not cease to be good friends. Many years later Paul wrote to Timothy and said: ~ "Take Mark and bring him with thee: for HE is profitable to me for the ministry... We have all made mistakes in judgment about another person. I heard the story about a boy named Jim who worked one summer for a farmer in Ohio back in the 1800's before our civil war. The farmer didn't even know Jim's last name. But Jim worked hard and slept in the hayloft. Jim fell in love with the farmer's daughter, but farmer Taylor told Jim he couldn't marry her: "you don't have any money, no name and VERY poor prospects. So, Jim stuffed his things in an old carpetbag and disappeared. Thirty-five years later the farmer tore his old barn down. On one of those rafters Jim, had carved his full name. As the farmer repeated the name carved there, he thought. It sounded familiar. James A. Garfield. And guess who was president of the United States at that time... James A. Garfield. It's easy to form a quickie judgment about another person. And, it's easy to make a mistake in judgment, too. You've done it! I've done it! And it would appear Paul did it, too. YES, but Bro. Horsley, Paul was   an inspired man.   That's true, but,   study the circumstances here and you will gain some insight into HOW the Spirit directed the apostle The Spirit was to direct the apostles into ALL TRUTH, that's John 16:13. But, that does NOT MEAN the apostles were not free to be themselves. The apostles, including Paul, were given direction from time to time by the H.S. to accomplish the work that the Lord wanted done; but, not on every rinky-dink decision they made. Even the apostles themselves did not always see eye to eye on matters of expediency, matters of PURE HUMAN judgment. But, you should get it embedded deeply in your cranium right now; they did NOT teach different doctrines. It was the job of the Comforter to guide the apostles into ALL TRUTH. And, the H.S. did his job. But, He did NOT mess around with their personalities, their common sense, and matters of expediency. The apostles had freedom in these areas. Paul said, "Am I not an apostle? Am I not free?" (I Cor. 9:1). He was talking about eating, drinking,   marrying, working, etc. Paul and Peter clashed one time! Paul tells about it in Gal. 2:11. It happened at Antioch. Luke doesn't touch it. Luke doesn't even tell that Peter came to Antioch in the book of Acts. These MEN were not clones. They were Spirit directed, inspired MEN, which you and I are NOT. But, they were MEN. You will remember I'm sure, John Mark started with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary tour. They were together across Cyprus. We don't know why Mark turned back. The KJV says: "he departed from them," but the NI V says: "he had deserted them." As I said, we don't know why. Being a young man he may have gotten homesick for Jerusalem, a girl friend, his mother Mary, and that big house where he grew up, where Rhoda was the maid. We don't know all the extenuating circumstances. Paul was disappointed, yes. I would assume John Mark came from Jerusalem to Antioch with Silas and Judas. The bottom line is, Paul took Silas and headed across land toward Cilicia, Paul's homeland. Barnabas and John Mark caught a boat and headed for Barnabas' homeland of Cyprus. The net effect was four missionaries where two went before. As Barnabas and Mark sail out of that harbor, bound for Cyprus, we must say good­bye! This is the last time we meet Barnabas the exhorter and John Mark (his nephew) in the book of Acts. Both, are referred to   in the NEW TESTAMENT   but not   in Acts.   Luke, henceforth follows the travels of Paul and Silas on what we commonly call the Second Missionary Journey.

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