Sunday, 28 February 2021

Faith Caught - Acts 13 & 17

It is instructive for us to compare Paul's messages. This week we will look at his message in Acts 13 (Psidian Antioch), and his message in Acts 17 (Athens). In chapter 13 he went to the synagogue - not simply for some nice worship - but to give, he went strategically to tell about Jesus. In Acts 17 he did the same, and from there he went on to the Aeropagus - that's the gathering point of the clever and influential. Again he did this not because it would be nice or stimulating, but because it afforded him the chance to give - to tell of Jesus.

Paul and companions were able to do this because they had a reservoir of personal spirituality - their own rhythm and diet out of which they gave. It enabled them to be intentional, sharing from their rock solid confidence in Christ.

In chapter 13 he addresses a Jewish audience, so he started in the roots of the Jewish faith: the exodus, the promised land, moving quickly through judges to the appointed kings. That enabled him to jump to the idea of an 'anointed king and promised future king'. In other words he took them on a journey of the promise of God sending a Messiah ... to Jesus being that Messiah. In chapter 17 the Aeropagus audience is quite different: people based in Greek mythology and philosophy - in other words all sorts going on! So he starts in a different place - with their innate sense of the spiritual and godly, and appeals to their reason that God cannot be wood or stone. Again he takes them on a journey that leads to God sending an anointed one - to Jesus.

In both cases Paul is unequivocal: Jesus was set upon by man but God raised him. That was proof that the man Jesus was the one sent by God, the one who now lives, the one we should all now look to. He starts in different places and with different styles, but the destination is the same: Jesus is God's anointed, Jesus is raised ... so he calls to believe in Jesus.

The belief in Jesus enables the forgiveness of their sins. Paul actually uses the same 'factory reset' metaphor that is useful for us to use today! People today know their phones/laptops get sluggish, clunky and messed with computer viruses over time. The solution is to do the 'factory reset', clearing the memory, and re-starting. Similarly our lives get filled with all kinds of mess and baggage, and we desperately need clearing to give a fresh start - a 'factory reset', returning to God's original intention for us. Paul talks to the Jewish audience about how they in Jesus can reset to their God-given calling as God's people to witness to the whole earth. To the Greek he talks of a reset to God-given life, that God intended for us all along, but people have somehow lost sight of.

All this is instructive for us! Let us listen to where people are at, and start with the shards of their own understanding, and from there walk them towards Jesus.

In 13:43 and 17:37 we are told that some then followed Paul (and companions). In other words they started on a discipleship journey. We don't really know if they have 'committed to Jesus' yet, but they want more, so Paul and co. will sit down with them to flesh out more detail that leads to Jesus.

Wesley, in the great revival times, was renowned for his open air preaching to the masses. Yet research would suggest that the most lasting decisions for Christ were actually made in the small evangelistic study groups that he then assigned people into.

At Countess Free Church we can do the same. We have new format small groups that are easy and accessible (even to all ages). They have proved to be great places where we can invite families or a parent with their children to come and explore faith together ... giving us that deeper opportunity to point people to Jesus. We have found this to be a much easier access point.

There is a phrase 'Christian faith is better caught than taught'. This is because you cannot simply 'download' faith so someone no matter how clear your teachng is, because ultimately it is a spiritual heart of person connecting to God thing. Paul and co. go to both the synagogue and the Aeropagus with the people wanting 'teaching'. What they actually give is 'preaching': preaching calls for a response. They then see who responds and with those they arrange to journey further. So with us, in our conversations picking up the shards of understanding and pointing to Jesus, let us see who responds and invite them to go further.

Finally we should note that Paul says nothing about the behaviour of the people (other than in very general terms of ignorance and needing 'forgiveness of sins'). He doesn't say 'this bad habit of yours ... that must first be sorted'. Instead his focus is solely on coming to Jesus, laying our lives before Him ... to then let the Spirit work on the behaviours.

Christians today describe this as 'Belong, Believe ... Behave'. We shouldn't expect people who do not know Jesus to behave well, because quite simply they do not know any better. Yet they can be welcomed, they can belong to a setting with us alongside them which creates an environment in which they can catch faith and believe for themselves. That sets in motion an openness for the Spirit to work on the behaviour.

Ironically within just 400 years the church (now centred in Rome) had completely lost sight of this. They went out teaching with an expectation of upfront conformance. Some pagan groups were far from conforming, so they concluded these were 'unreachable barbarians'. Thankfully the Spirit of God moved through the celtic Christians who had a different approach. They modelled their faith, creating an environment in which pagans could catch on and be transformed. The Roman church at the time was effectively stagnant, while the celtics were winning souls for Christ!

That is what we see in 13:49 'The word of the Lord spread through the whole region'. It was hard - for there was persecution, forcing Paul and companions to move on. Yet the Spirit was at work (see v52). From our own walk with Jesus, let us intentionally go, looking for who wants to go deeper, providing group spaces where they can do that, leading the to Christ, and watching the Spirit at work!

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