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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.45am Service, 2005-05-22

Text: Isaiah 55:10,11; Acts 13:13-17, 38-52

For the past few Sundays our messages have been focused on the subject of Evangelism. Ever since our Lord Jesus Christ gave the commission to His disciples to preach the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations, this has been the main task of the church. 

Today, two thousand years later, we can now look back to see how much of this task has been accomplished since the time that the disciples started to preach the Gospel wherever they went. And we marvel that despite the great odds that have been working against the spread of the Gospel of Salvation, it has gone into many nations of this world, reaching the uttermost parts of the earth. And it has also come to us, all the way here in Singapore, and to each of us here in this sanctuary! Just ponder for a moment the awesome wonder of this fact: That we who are thousands of kilometers removed from where it all began, are saved and enjoying the great privileges of God's grace here in Life Church now! And this is true of virtually every country in the world today: there are people who have received the Gospel and believed in Christ.

This by itself is a great testimony to the tremendous power of the Gospel! The power that has brought salvation from sin way over hundreds of years and thousands of kilometers to the end of the earth and to us here in this hall, must truly be an awesome power! I dread to think of what we would all be now, if the Gospel of Christ did not have that power to convert sinners and to turn them into willing bearers of itself to others. We would still be hopelessly trapped in the darkness of sin, without Christ and without hope. There would be no Christian fellowship, no joy of salvation, no comfort, but selfish strife, sinful pride and ambition, division, and hatred in our midst.

What exactly is that power that has made such a great difference in our lives? It is a power that is found in the Gospel itself and makes it mighty to save sinners. It is a power that the Almighty God has built into His Word making it impactful whenever it is preached or taught to sinners. It is a power that guarantees glorious results from the preaching of the Gospel. This morning we want to focus our attention upon this wonderful power of the Gospel and the results it produces. And our purpose for doing this is to be thoroughly motivated to bring the Gospel more fervently and frequently to those who are still outside God's kingdom.

Through this morning's message we will also realize that souls are saved not by any human ingenuity, not by adopting new market-driven methods of church growth, and not by faith-healing or miracles. The results come only by being faithful in carefully teaching and preaching the Gospel message fully and accurately with the enablement of the Holy Spirit. This is the key to successful evangelism. And the reason why it works, is because the Lord has invested a special quality within His word, that gives it the power to produce the results He desires from it. 

This special quality about God's Word is described by God Himself. The Lord Himself said in Isaiah 55: 11 - 'So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void (empty), but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.'

This amazing power that God says His Word possesses, must now encourage us to keep on using it and disseminating it far and wide. One way for us to fully appreciate the power of the Gospel is to see it in action. We should observe a full demonstration of it. And this is what we will endeavour to do now as we study the exciting account of the first missionary trip made by Paul and Barnabas. Turn your Bibles to Acts 13. The chapter begins with the account of how the mission trip began - it was through revelation that the church at Antioch received from God during a time of worship. The instruction given was that the church was to send Paul and Barnabas as their missionaries. This of course, meant that the church would provide financial and prayer support.

So Paul and Barnabas set sail, and their first stop was at an island called Cyprus. There they had their very first convert - a government official named Sergius Paulus. After this the two missionaries continued on their journey sailing northward till they reached the coast of Asia Minor (present day country of Turkey). They then journeyed inland until they reached a city called Antioch. (This isn't the same Antioch as the Antioch they were at in Acts 13:1. At that time in history there were at least 16 cities in the eastern Mediterranean region having the same name - Antioch. They had been named in honour of a Greek king called Antiochus.)

This city of Antioch which they arrived at now was the most important city in that area, because there was a main east-west highway that went through it, and it had quite a large population consisting of Romans, Greeks, Galatians, Phrygians and even Jews. There must have been a sizeable group of Jews here, since the book of Acts tells us that they had their own synagogue building.

Since they were Jews, Paul and Barnabas went first to the synagogue and joined the Jews in their usual Sabbath day worship service. Paul (being a Pharisee), was invited to speak from the pulpit, and there he took the opportunity to present the gospel, as recorded in vv.16-41. This, by the way was the first of three recorded sermons preached by Paul, and what is given here is probably not the whole sermon, but a summary of it. 

When Paul finished preaching the Gospel, there were two kinds of reactions. Both of them show the results that are produced by the preaching of the Gospel. The First reaction was very favourable: They were invited to preach again, and this time there was a much larger group and there were many conversions. Thus the Gospel was propagated. But the other reaction was not favourable: the Jews who disliked Paul's preaching pulled some strings in the local government and managed to get the two missionaries expelled from Antioch. Thus the Word of God was persecuted.

That is the gist of the story. We can divide it nicely into 3 parts: The Preached Word, the Propagated Word and the Persecuted Word. Now let us see what lessons we can learn from each part. The first part is:

I. The Preached Word

Let us read Acts 13:14 & 15: 'But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. Then Paul stood up and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.' 

You know there are times when you and I want to bring the Gospel to a lost world, but we wonder: how do I find the opportunity to tell somebody about Christ? When can I begin? People everywhere are always so busy - too busy to listen to what I want to tell them about Christ. Well, here we see a clue to the answer to this question: Begin with whatever you have. 

As total strangers in a new city, it would not have been easy for Paul and Barnabas to begin any evangelistic efforts. But one point of contact they both had was the fact that they were both Jews, and would find a ready welcome from the local Jewish community. This would become the jumping board for witnessing. Through this initial contact with the Jews, they would eventually gain a hearing which enabled them to get contacts with the Gentiles who came to worship with the Jews, and this would then lead them to have an effective ministry among the Gentiles in the city. This became the regular pattern used by Paul and Barnabas in every city they went during their missionary journey.

The lesson we can learn is this: If the Gospel is to produce any results, we must first gain the opportunity to preach or share it with others. The way to do this is to look for open doors around you - it may be some persons or groups that share something in common with you, or that would welcome you and listen to you. Sometimes in your working life or social life, you may find yourself in a situation where you have a ready audience, for example when you attend a wedding reception and you are sitting with people who are new to you. You will probably converse with them - but what are you going to say? That's a golden opportunity for you to see the impact of Gospel. 

Perhaps some friends invite you out for a meal to give you a treat because it is your birthday, or you had just finished your exams and got good results, or because you got a promotion. They ask you to say a few words. Think carefully about what you are you going to say. That's another golden opportunity to experience the impact of the Gospel. I remember a time about 20 years ago when I had just completed undergoing a course of training in NS, and my platoon had a session at the end where each of us as soldiers were given a few minutes to say our parting words to the rest, as we would be going separate ways. Now most of them would simply say how they enjoyed working together with each other, or talk about their immediate plans. But when my turn came I immediately saw my opportunity to deliver the Gospel and see its impact. 

The point of is this: If we only bother to pray and look for opportunities around us, we are bound to find them. And if we want to see the Gospel making an impact and producing its results, that is what we need to do.

Now the next thing we ask, is when the opportunities come, what are we to say? How do we proceed to introduce God's Word, to bring it into the conversation? Let us go back to our passage in Acts and make some observations. We want to observe the content of Paul's message: in verses 17 - 22 he began with what the Jews already knew (Israel's history). He had not started to preach the Gospel yet. He was just repeating what was commonly known to them. In the same way, when we attempt to share God's Word with others, it is useful to begin by talking about things that are already known by our audience, before proceeding to what they do not know. This is the most basic principle of education - to proceed from what is known to what is not known.

Now look at v.23 - this is where the transition comes 'Of this man's (i.e. King David's) seed hath God according to His promise raised up unto Israel a Saviour Jesus.' This statement is like a bridge that links the history of Israel which Paul's audience knew very well, to the Gospel of Christ, which they did not know at all. In the same way we must find always find something in our conversation or speech that would serve as a bridge, to the Word of God. It may be a statement, or it may be a question. 

There is one more thing that we want to observe in Paul's preaching, and that is his deliberate use of the Scriptures. Look at vv. 33-35 'God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore He saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.'

Within these three verses, Paul quoted from no less than three passages of Scripture, that are related to the resurrection of Christ (using Psalm 2, Isaiah 55:3, Psalm 16:10) Do you know why he did this? Because every verse of scripture is like a nail hammered in to seal up his message with power. It is the Word of God that has its own built-in power to convince, because it penetrates right into the heart as a two-edged sword. When you talk to anyone about Christ, be sure to use verses from the Bible, and then watch what happens. 

One well-known evangelist testified that he saw a great difference: when he delivered a message that had plenty of Bible verses quoted, he saw more responses, than when he preached a beautifully-crafted sermon with only a few Bible verses. You cannot hope to gain anything if you leave out God's Word, and just attempt to use your testimony or a brilliant illustration. It is like cooking a stew and leaving out the meat which is the most important ingredient. Reading out Bible verses or quoting them from memory is most effective, because our audience would then know that the truth we are sharing with them does not come from us, but from God, who had given us a permanent record of it in His Word. The Holy Spirit then takes that truth and uses it to penetrate into the hearts of people.

Let us now proceed on the the second point. 

II. The Propagated Word

We see the first kind of reaction to God's Word in v. 43 -- 'Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.'

The power of the Gospel was now unleashed and it instantly started to produce its results: after the service, a group of Jews and Gentile converts stayed behind and asked Paul and Barnabas to tell them more about the Gospel. They had tasted the goodness of God's Word and found it to be sweet. Now they were keen to have second and third helpings of it because it met the need of their hearts. Paul and Barnabas agreed to help them, and so they returned on the next Saturday to the same place. This time they found the synagogue packed right to the doors with people, and many more were trying to get into the building from outside. Apparently those who had heard them preach the first time must have told many others about what Paul and Barnabas preached to them. Do you see what a great impact the Gospel can have?

Within just one week it had spread from person to person from that small group in the synagogue, until everyone in the city had heard of it. Look at v.44 - 'And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.' Can you see how God's Word when it was delivered, had accomplished the purpose for which it was sent? It had not returned empty. It had brought back a greater crowd to listen to the Gospel!

How exciting this must have been for Paul and Barnabas! Although they faced some opposition, they preached boldly, and they delivered more of God's Word. Look at v.47 - 'For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.' This is a direct quote taken from the book of Isaiah, 42:6.

Once again that Word of God that was sent forth brought back tremendous profits. Look at v.48, and 49 now - 'And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.' 

Do you see what great results the Word of God had produced? It had propagated itself; it was highly infectious, it had increased and spread like fire; it had become a powerful influence within just a short space of time. Is there any kind of word, information or knowledge in this world that has built-in power do something like that? None. And it was changing the lives of men, women and children everywhere. Look at v.52 - 'And the (new) disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.' What a great impact - and it all began just with an opportunity that Paul and Barnabas had to speak in a small synagogue.

Dearly beloved, we who serve the Lord in this present time must believe that the Gospel still has the same potential to produce the same results upon the lives of our friends and family, upon our community, upon society, yes, even upon our whole nation, if we are only bold enough to send it forth whenever there is opportunity. We must firmly believe in the power of God's Word. For only then would we be bold enough to share it, preach it, teach it and disseminate it as widely as we can, by every possible means and method.

But that is not all that God's Word will do. You will notice that our 3rd and final point is:

III. The Persecuted Word

In physics we learn the principle called Newton's 3rd Law, 'for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.' The same thing applies to the preaching of the Gospel. The wonderful results it produced ellicited a negative reaction from the Jews. According to v.45, this reaction was motivated by envy or jealousy. 

The Jews did not like the idea of the Gentiles receiving benefits directly from God through Jesus Christ. They also did not like the idea of justification without the Law of Moses, which they treasured zealously. These prejudices blinded them from seeing and experiencing the grace of God working through the Gospel that Paul had preached to them. They spoke against the Gospel which he delivered, and they wanted to put a stop to the Gospel by having Paul and Barnabas expelled from the city. 

But all their efforts were in vain. Because nothing they did now could stop the impact of the Gospel. Even though Paul and Barnabas could not continue preaching at Antioch, we can confidently believe that the new believers they left behind continued to preach and propagate the Gospel to their own friends. Their efforts to persecute the Word of God and silence it were futile. In fact it is probable that the more, they tried to stop the Gospel from spreading, the further it spread! 

Let me explain this. Look at v.51 - 'But they (Paul and Barnabas) shook off the dust of their feet against them (when they were expelled) and came unto Iconium.' When we read this we realize that the end result of the expulsion of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch was that the Word of God now spread to the neighbouring city of Iconium! Hypothetically speaking, if Paul and Barnabas had not faced any persecution at Antioch, they might have just continued to stay there comfortably and be contented to preach and teach God's Word there. Then perhaps, the people at Iconium and other cities would never have heard the Gospel and been saved. Do you see how persecution can cause God's Word to propagate rather than perish?

This phenomenon is still true today. Studies have shown that the countries where the Gospel is thriving most today are countries where Christians have faced the greatest persecution for preaching the Word of God. An early church father testified of this when he wrote, 'The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.'

When the communists first took control of China, and all missionaries had to leave the country, everyone was afraid that the Chinese church would be strangled to death by the restrictive anti-Christian iron-handed policies of Communism. But look at China today. Far from being weak and spiritually impoverished, the church there has become very strong, and multiplying at an amazing rate (about 9% annual growth!). Estimates of the number of Christians in China vary between 30 million and 150 million!

Why does the Word of God thrive so strangely under unfavourable conditions? Once again, the only way to explain this is the fact that God Himself has invested in it, has infused it and built into it the power to penetrate hearts and to change the lives of sinners. We all know 2 Cor 5:17 - 'If any man be in Christ he is a new creature (or a new creation).' Do you remember how God created the heavens and the earth? According to Genesis, it was through His Word - 'And God said: let there be ---' and it was so. God's Word brought the whole of creation into existence. In the same way, God's Word is today creating new lives. When sinners hear the Word of God, the Holy Spirit uses that Word to make them alive from spiritual deadness. That word creates faith in Jesus, as Romans 10:17 says, 'faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.' That word gives the sinner a new heart that seeks after God and it brings about a new birth. Isn't it wonderful what God's Word can do?

The only thing that remains now is for us to consider: If we know all of this concerning the Gospel, What then are we doing with it? If we do nothing about it, does this not show that we doubt its power and the results it will produce? Has God not given an unfailing promise in Isaiah 55:11 that His Word will not return unto Him void but will accomplish His purpose and prosper? Are we denying that God has made promised such power in His Word?

If not, I trust that we will then commit ourselves to use fully the Word of God that God has entrusted into our hands to use. How foolish it would be to keep the Gospel all to ourselves. Let us allow the Gospel to once again to produce the results that the Lord has sent it to produce, both in our lives, as well as in the lives of those around us.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11