Reading Assignment: Acts 13:1 – 15:5
There are many ways of dividing the book of Acts into sections. One common way is to identify part one as “A Narrative of Conversion.” Throughout the chapters we have read so far, the action has been building as the apostles have reached further and further outside of their comfort zones. You will remember in the first chapters they were identified by the crowds as “uneducated and ordinary men.” Even so, they were bold, courageous, and compelling witnesses. The story continues as they tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ and people convert, becoming believers — but something else is going on as well. The apostles are converting from a belief that their message is for the people of Israel, coming to understand that the good news is for the whole world. Once the whole world is involved, religious life will look quite different from what they experienced when their faith was shared within the cultural and dietary norms which were accepted within the Jewish community.
The reading for this week ends with what feels like a courtroom scene. A jury of their peers, made up of apostles and elders, gathers to hear what Peter, Paul and Barnabas have to say about what God is doing among the Gentiles. There is obvious concern for the Jerusalem church about what this will mean for identity.
POINTS TO PONDER
From Chapter 13:
We hear about many leaders of the church in Antioch. Up until this point, the center of church life has been in Jerusalem; but the congregation in Antioch has a mission from God which will change the Church forever. As conduits of the Holy Spirit, the Antiochene members are assembling an incredibly diverse leadership base ranging culturally and socially far beyond anything imagined by the origional disciples.
From Chapter 14:
Paul and Barnabas interpret the scriptures to the people of the cities Iconium, Lystra and Derbe in the Roman province of Galatia. This is roughly ninety miles southeast from Antioch, on a main roadway connecting the most important Roman cities of the area. As always, their efforts stir up controversy. Throughout Acts, Luke makes clear that the real battle being waged is for the mind. The apostles battle ignorance, fear and wrong-headed interpretations of the Jewish prophets’ wisdom.
From Chapter 15:
“God, who knows the human heart, testified to them, giving them the Holy Spirit […] and cleansing their hearts by faith. God has made no distinction between them and us.” As this scene comes to a close, the narrative of conversion is complete.
QUESTIONS FOR TODAY
- What spiritual practices do you see mentioned in these chapters which sustained the missionary efforts of the church?
- Paul and Barnabas are “set apart.” In his letters, Paul often refers to the prophetic ministry to which he is called. How do you read Saul/Paul?
- Though he is intelligent and well-educated, not every Gentile audience is won over by Paul’s rhetorical brilliance. It is no secret that many readers, even today, find him abrasive. Is this the right personality type for a mission of the grand scope Paul pursed?
- Do you feel you are someone who could “win over” the crowds?
- What makes Paul successful in persuading so many people to turn to the Way of Jesus?