This Week’s Reading Schedule
I only got chapters 12 through 14 done today. Much of this is really important, so I’m adjusting today’s reading to just those chapters, so that we can do 15 through 17 tomorrow. We won’t rush through Acts so fast, and we’ll read it on Monday and perhaps Tuesday as well.
Wednesday’s (today’s) Bible Reading is Acts 12-14
Thursday, Mar. 29: Acts 15-17
Friday, Mar. 30: Acts 18-23
The overall year’s plan is here.
Acts 12:1-19: James Martyred and Peter Imprisoned
James, the apostle and brother of John, was put to death by Herod. Herod has not been mentioned in Acts to this point, he is just suddenly thrust into the narrative.
He then arrests Peter, too, but an angel delivers Peter from prison. Humorously, he goes to a house where the saints are praying for him, and they refuse to believe he’s there, saying it’s impossible and that perhaps the servant girl saw his "angel" or spirit.
When they finally let him in the house, he instructs them to tell "James and the brothers" what happens. Obviously, he doesn’t mean James, the brother of John, who has just been martyred. This passage lets us see that James, the Lord’s brother, already occupies a central place in the church at Jerusalem although we’ve heard very little about him up to this point.
Acts 12:20-25: Herod Judged
Herod is judged not for killing James, but for honoring himself over God.
Once again, we are told that the Word of God is growing and multiplying (v. 24). This is obviously not the Scriptures, but the Word of God is to be received by disciples and planted in their heart (Jam. 1:18,21). So as the disciples multiply, the Word of God expands.
Acts 13:1-3: The Calling of Barnabas and Saul (Paul)
Here the narrative in Acts shifts to Antioch and to the apostle Paul, and it will stay there until the end. Paul’s travels and missions begin with this prayer and fasting meeting of the leaders of the church at Antioch. Ironically, at this point, Paul is not even the leader, as the Holy Spirit calls "Barnabas and Saul," not "Saul and Barnabas."
Why did Saul change his name to Paul? We are not told, but we do know that Saul is a Hebrew name and Paul a Greek one. In each case, where we see these name changes, even when a reason for the name change is given, the change is from a Hebrew to a Greek name. For example, Barnabas’ name was given because it means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36), but even then there was a change from a Hebrew to a Greek name.
In Paul’s case, Saul means "desired," and Paul means "small."
Barnabas and Paul immediately left in obedience to the call of the Holy Spirit with the blessing of the church, who fasted, prayed, and laid their hands on them.
Wherever they went, they went first to the synagogues. However, their first indication of success is when Paul rebukes the Jewish sorcerer Elymas (or Barjesus), who is then struck with blindness. This led to the proconsul of Paphos becoming a believer.
John Mark, who had come with them, then leaves them to go back to Jerusalem, which would become a source of great strife between Barnabas and Paul on their next journey. In fact, it would lead to their going their separate ways.
Luke is already referring to the company as "Paul and his companions" (v. 13) so it hasn’t taken long at all for Paul to be seen as the leader.
Their next stop is another Antioch, this one in Pisidia, and we finally get a taste of just what Paul and Barnabas have been saying in the synagogues. What we find is that his message is remarkably like Peter’s was.
We preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that he has raised up Jesus. (vv. 32-33).
Paul refers to the other apostles as being the witnesses of the resurrection (v. 31), but he is proclaiming a resurrected Christ who can save by his own mighty power, just as Peter did. No deep theology, no explanation of the atonement, no doctrine of sin, just a proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah as proven by the fact that God raised him from the dead.
As a result, through him the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed, and "through him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses" (vv. 38-39, cf. Rom. 8:3-4).
Paul gives them some warnings, but at this point both Jews and Gentiles are listening to what he said, following them out to hear more (v. 43).
Paul and Barnabas urge them to "continue in the grace of God" (v. 43). It’s important to understand what the grace of God is. The grace of God is the power that goes to work in us as Christians. It breaks sin’s power over us (Rom. 6:14), teaches us how to live (Tit. 2:11-14), helps us in time of need (Heb. 4:16), and empowers us for service (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
It was not until the following week, when crowds came to hear Paul and Barnabas, that the Jews turned on them, choosing to feed their jealousy rather than believe the Word of the Lord. Paul and Barnabas were driven out of the city, but they left behind a group of believers that they would visit again.
In the meantime, the disciples, having nothing to lean on but the grace of God they had been urged to continue in, were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Paul and Barnabas continue to see success—and persecution—and signs and wonders begin to accompany "the message of his grace." It is important to have a correct definition of his grace, if we are going to understand what the message of his grace is (see above).
Paul heals a lame man when he "perceives that he had faith to be healed." The result is that the pagans of Lystra want to sacrifice to them as gods and had to be restrained.
Obviously, a lot of teaching was needed there, but the Jews from Antioch and Iconium stirred up such a persecution against them that Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city, supposed dead.
Whether dead or not, Paul got up and returned to the city, then left the next day. They then went back to all the cities where they’d preached the Gospel to strengthen the disciples. It’s interesting to note that only two messages are mentioned to strengthen them:
- Continue in the faith.
- It’s through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God.
Acts 14:23: Elders
Paul and Barnabas then appointed elders in each of those churches. These were the pastors of the early church. They were also called bishops or overseers (Acts 20:17,28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). This leadership structure is probably patterned after the synagogues, which were led by multiple elders.
Their overseer role would have had them leading like the apostles in Jerusalem, helping with everything that came up, not sitting in an office, preaching weekly sermons, or having an official job, and it would almost certainly not have been a paid position at this point. They were simply the men left to oversee the Lord’s heritage in those towns, and everyone would know that they were the "go to" men if there were a problem.
Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch, and this is the end of the "First missionary journey," as it is known.