Exodus 16:1-15, Acts 13:13-25, 42-49
August 12, 2007
A number of you have commented that you’ve been enjoying our little “journey through Acts.” And I am glad about that. This part of the history of the Church is really amazing to me, and it’s my desire to give you a sense of that amazement, too.
That’s important! Because, have you ever been in a conversation with someone and they’ve gone on and on about some subject about which you couldn’t be less interested?! Well, I don’t want that to happen here with Acts! I wouldn’t want to think I’ve gone on this journey and I’ve left you all behind!
This is an amazing book. And it’s one that we don’t often talk about in the Church. And I’m not sure why. Maybe that’s because there are too many “spiritual” things happening here – and that’s uncomfortable for some. But this is the story of the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ – a story of which we are a part!
Here in this part of the country, we are privileged to be living around many historic places. Every day, we can see evidence of that history, and if we want to, we can stop and think about how it all happened – not really all that long ago. We can stop and think about how this country and this state came to be, and then how it evolved into the country we live in today.
Well, Acts is like that for us in the Church. This is where the Church started. From here the message went out to whole world. From here, the Church grew, and it prevailed over the very empire that tried to stamp it out. It saw other empires rise and fall. It was there through the Dark Ages. It was there to witness the many discoveries of the age of Enlightenment. The faith of the Church went with the explorers on dangerous journeys we can’t begin to imagine. It came to this continent, and it took a strong hand in the formation of this country. And it came right here to Bensalem, to reside in this historic building, and the one next door.
That’s this book of Acts. And here so many incredible things were happening in these early days of the Church. And today we follow more of the story of Paul, who was on an incredible “journey” of his own. Not only was he on the first of a number of “missionary journeys,” but he had also been on a journey of rebirth and great change in his own life. He had gone from extreme pharisaism to amazing grace!
Today we find him with Barnabas, who was a co-worker from the town of Antioch. Antioch was just north of Israel, on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. (I sure wish we had a map here!) They have sailed to Cyprus, which is that big island in the eastern end of that Sea. And after spending time there telling people about the events of that past few months, he and Barnabas sailed to Asia Minor which we know as the modern day country of Turkey. And lo behold, they ended up next in another town called Antioch. This one was located right in the middle of Asia Minor. (Ooooh I wish I had a map to show you here!)
Now, remember the hotbed of Jewish opposition to the Church was still in Jerusalem. And remember also that this whole story was still very new to the world! And yes, there was Roman persecution of the Church, and that would come in waves throughout the first couple of hundred years. But at this time the greatest opposition to the message of Christ was the Jewish opposition.
The other thing to remember is that there were synagogues of Judaism all over the empire. Remember how I said a few weeks ago that persecution often has the effect of causing people to leave an area and so spreading the message? Well that had happened to Judaism a couple of hundred years before this. So we will often find Paul and his colleagues in synagogues in the various cities throughout the Roman Empire. That’s how those synagogues got there. And we will see throughout Acts how that opposition would spread along with the Christian message. And that would make life difficult for the Apostles where ever they went.
Well, Paul and Barnabas are now in Antioch of Pisidia, and they have gone into the Synagogue there. And at this point, they were “just visitors.” They sat down and were enjoying the service. They were probably sitting in the back, wearing little “visitor name tags.” (In Greek and Latin, by the way!) But after the leaders of the synagogue had finished reading from the scriptures, they turned and asked Paul and Barnabas to come forward. They said, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, you may say it.” What a great opening! The opposition to the Church had obviously not yet reached this congregation. But of course it would!
So Paul starts speaking, and he takes them through a quick rendering of their history, leading up to the story of Jesus. And there was a great response to the message! What I want you see here is that, along with the persecution that was happening in those days, there was also a great “hunger for the word!” Verse 42 says, “As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told again the next Sabbath.” And as they left, people followed Paul and Barnabas, eager to hear more. Again, the persecution hadn’t caught up with them yet. And the people were eager to hear the Gospel! Then, on the next Sabbath, it says in verse 44, “almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God.”
Can we even imagine what that was like? There was a real hunger for the word. That’s a great description of what was happening in that city and in the whole world. There was a hunger, and it was a hunger as intense as the hunger of the people in the Exodus story. But instead of hunger for food, it was a hunger for the word of God! And notice, this wasn’t just a desire for the “sensational.” There were miraculous things that happened in Acts, but the message did not spread because of the miraculous. The message spread because of the hunger for the word!
2000 years later, there was another example of that “hunger for the word.” I believe I talked about this once before, but I think it’s worth revisiting because of how it relates to Acts. And it has to do with this country.
By the early 1700’s there was in the American colonies, what one historian called a “spiritual malaise.” In other words, there was a spiritual “depression.” People didn’t care at all about their faith. They had no spark, no “fire,” and their churches were empty and spiritually dead. Then along came a man named William Tennant. And he began to teach theological students in his “Log College,” which was here in Bucks County. (Just over in Warminster.) By the way, “Log College” was a derogatory name given to it by the Old World preachers of his day. They were trained in “stone and ivy covered” institutions in Europe.
Well, this “upstart” William Tennant began to teach his students that God wasn’t just to be studied, but to be known – personally! And that made a huge difference in their spiritual lives. He and his students, and colleagues like the great preacher George Whitfield, began to bring about in the colonies what has now been called “The Great Awakening.” Maybe you’ve heard that term before.
That Great Awakening was a time like this time in the early Church. There became an incredible hunger for the Word of God. There was a fire inside people when they came to know God personally. It is said that, when Tennant and especially George Whitfield came to a town to speak, the entire town and all the people in the surrounding region would come to hear them. It is said that lives were changed on a huge scale. And before that wave was done sweeping over the colonies, almost everyone in the land had an awakening in their faith! There was a hunger for the word – just like in Acts!
With that in mind, I want us to think about our own “hunger for the word.” And by the way, I don’t just mean “the written word.” This is not simply a hunger for reading the Bible. This is a hunger for the message. And the message is that we can know God. It is a hunger for that relationship, not just the learning about God. (It’s like that computer ad. “The computer is personal again.” That’s a great ad! That should be said of our faith. “God is personal again.”)
So I want to ask you. Is God personal? Do you have that hunger? Is it life changing? Is it life encompassing? In other words, does it impact everything you do? How do we get that hunger? Well, our story tells us that we get it by asking that it be spoken – giving it a true chance, without the opposition. That’s what the leaders of the synagogue in Antioch did. They asked for Paul to speak. Had they heard of him before? What made them ask? Remember, they were Jews just like those of the opposition, but they didn’t know of, or they didn’t let that opposition stand in their way. They asked. And when they asked, they received. And they became hungry for the word!
What about you? You know the story. You know the message Paul gave to these people, though it’s not new like it was to them. But it’s the same story. But, what have you done with it? Does it fill you and make you want more? Does it change you? Is anything different in your lives having heard the message? Ask yourself that question as you go about living your lives this week. Is anything different? Or are you living life just like everyone else?
If life isn’t different, then it’s just academic! That’s what the Old World preachers in the colonies had done to the faith. That’s what the Synagogue leaders and the priests had done to the Jewish Tradition. That’s what certain “theologians” in our day and age threaten to do to the Church. They threaten simply to make it all academic. And that’s what we do, if we just content ourselves to learn, and forget to live the faith!
The message is that you have been redeemed! You have been brought into relationship with the living God! It’s not just academic. It’s personal! God loves you. He wants to fill you with joy, no matter what your life’s circumstances. He wants you to be filled with all of his fullness! He wants to put within you a hunger to know him more! May you know that hunger for him. And may it grow like it did in those people long ago – and not so long ago!
Eternal God, we do want to know you more. Help us to know that hunger within us. Help us to set aside the opposition we sometimes feel when it comes to knowing you. Help us to open our lives and our hearts to you. Change us. Make us new creations. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.