A Word of Exhortation – July 16, 2017
Isaiah 44:1-8, Acts 13:13-34
July 16, 2017
As we said before, Saul of Tarsus – once the enemy of the Church – became Paul, the Apostle, one of it’s greatest proponents! It was an amazing story! But not only that, he was also one of the most influential people in history. Paul founded Churches. He wrote most of the New Testament letters. He brought Christianity to the major cities of the known world!
As we pick up his story today, he was doing just that. He was off on the first of what have been called his “missionary journeys.” As I said before, maybe you remember those maps in the back of your Bibles. (Did anyone go back and look at them? I did!) Paul went from city to city, throughout the Mediterranean world, telling people the story of Jesus.
Well, today we find him in the city of Antioch. That was a city in Asia Minor, that region of the world we know today as Turkey. And Asia Minor was one of the most important regions in the world in the early days of the Church. So many of the Churches, so many of the New Testament letters, are associated with cities in that region.
Paul was in the synagogue in Antioch. He always went to the synagogues in the various cities. He often started by speaking to the Jewish people. And during the service, the leader asked if anyone had “a word of exhortation.” You know that word. It’s an important New Testament word meaning “encouragement” or “inspiration.” To “Exhort “ somebody is to lift them up, and to call them to action!
Well, that was all Paul needed. He got up right away and gave them that word. And what did Paul give them that day? He gave them the most complete and concise history of God’s salvation in the New Testament! I want you notice that today! As he talked to the people, he gave them the correct timeline of everything. He noted all the important events. He even had the exact words of John the Baptist. “One is coming whose sandals I am not fit to carry!”
So, what does that mean? It means that, either somebody told Saul about all of that, or, as I’ve been suggesting, he was there!!! He had been observing Jesus all along. He had heard him speak. He may even have been one of the unnamed Pharisees who questioned him. Saul knew the story of Jesus. He knew what had happened. And I believe it’s because he was there! I’m more convinced of that after reading this, than I was before!
So, what does that mean for us today? It means that knowing the story of Jesus was not the problem for Saul all along. The problem was that he had been resisting the story of Jesus! He couldn’t accept the truth about Jesus. He couldn’t accept the message! He was fighting against it!
I want you to see today, that the same thing has been true throughout the ages. All along, and even today, people have resisted the message of Jesus! It’s often not a matter of whether or not they know the story. As I’ve said before, you can stop anyone on the street, and ask them who Jesus was, and most people would probably give you a pretty good account. They might even say he’s the Son of God! It’s not a matter of them knowing the story. It’s not even a matter of them knowing what it all means. If they’re not believers, it’s more a matter of them resisting the message. It’s a matter of them fighting against it!
Friends, that’s a hard thing to break through! Yes, with good logic and persuasive arguments we might (might!) be able to break through! But not often. And I’m guessing many of us are not up to that kind of challenge anyway! We often think we don’t know the right words, or we don’t know enough about the Bible. Or we’re timid.
That was not a problem for Paul. Paul was a master when it came to argument, and logic, and debate! That was his forte! He would often launch right into it! When he came to certain towns in the New Testament, they were those who were anxious to take him on! It was almost like a sport! But then remember what he said to the Corinthians. In his letter he said, “I came among you not with eloquent words of wisdom…” In other words, no debate! “I decided to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul wanted the Gospel to stand on it’s own! He wanted them to see, not Paul’s wisdom, but God’s!
Even so, Paul knew he was good! His skills in debate served him well! And he was often found debating people in the synagogues. But many of us are not up to that task. Many of us don’t have such skills.
So what do we have? Well, first and foremost, we have the ability to share with people what Jesus means to us! That’s always a great place to start. We need to start not so much with “Here’s what Jesus can do for you!” but rather “Here’s what Jesus has done for me!” That’s what’s important. We need to talk not so much about the theology and doctrine surrounding Jesus, but what he means in our lives.
That’s one thing we can do. But even more than that, we need simply to show God’s love and compassion to others. Too often, I’m afraid to say, Christians are seen as “judgmental” and “unkind.” And if we are, people will pick up on that very quickly! And very quickly they will be “turned off” to anything we might say! It’s how well we show God’s love and acceptance that will make the real difference for people around us. I think you’ll agree that actions do speak louder than words!
I was reading an account recently about the world in the time of the Bubonic Plague. If you remember your history, that Plague first ravaged Europe in the mid 500’s AD, and then later in the mid 1300’s. And it was disastrous, by any definition of the word! Whole towns were affected! People were dying by the thousands! Something like a third of the people in Europe died! And the account I was reading said that it was only the Christians who would go into affected towns, and treat the people, and bury the dead.
It was that kind of extreme compassion – without regard for their own lives – that made people stand up and take notice of the Christians! It made people wonder about this religion, whose the leader once said, “Greater love has no man than this, than he lay down his life for his brother!” That was an enormous, positive witness to the world in difficult times. It was very appealing!
That’s a great example for us! It is by acts of holy compassion that people will be drawn to the light of Christ! In fact, if our words are “eloquent and wise,” but our actions are not, it won’t matter all that much what we say. It is indeed true that “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
Well, that’s my “word of exhortation” for today! It isn’t that people in this world don’t know the story of Jesus. Like Saul of Tarsus, it’s more the case that they resisting it. And maybe we are, too. So, may we know in our lives the love and compassion God has shown us. And may we be people who strive to show that love and compassion to the world!
Eternal God, we do thank you for your love and compassion for us. We thank your for your Grace in our lives, your favor undeserved. Help us to be gracious and compassionate people, so that others may see your light in us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen!