God, thank You that You have purposes for each of our lives. Please guide us and give us grace to obey You. Help us walk in step with Your Spirit and to have boldness in sharing Your truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read Acts 12-15
Acts 12 Sometimes government rulers like Herod attack the church. Following Jesus doesn’t always end well in this life, and there are no guarantees God will rescue Jesus’ followers from danger. James and Peter are both arrested in Acts 12. James is beheaded, and Peter is miraculously rescued by an angel. Sometimes God judges evil rulers like Herod by removing them from power.
WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Acts 13 What does the work of a pioneer church-planting missionary look like? Acts 13 to 15 begins to answer as we read about Paul’s first missionary journey. Notice the emphasis on prayer and the role of the Holy Spirit in the sending of Barnabas and Saul, some of the most fruitful disciple-makers in Antioch.
Barnabas and Saul first preached in Cyprus, Barnabas’ hometown (4:36), and again there is opposition to Christ and the gospel. But Paul, filled with the Spirit, confronts the evil magician.
Paul is asked to preach in the synagogue. Read carefully Paul’s summary of the gospel message as a fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture. Notice, too, the similarities with Stephen’s message to a Jewish audience in Acts 6.
In Cyprus, the gospel of Jesus proves divisive. Even in the places where Gentiles believe and the message of the Lord spreads, there are still some who respond by stirring up persecution and opposition. The disciples are joyful and filled with the Spirit, but Paul and Barnabas move on to Iconium, shaking the dust off their feet as Jesus had instructed in Luke 10.
Acts 14 In Iconium, a great number of Jews and Gentiles believe but the response is again divided. However, despite the persecution, the Lord enables Paul and Barnabas to speak boldly and to perform miraculous signs that confirm the gospel.
In Lystra, Luke shows us that gospel communication can be misunderstood even when there is not a common language. The crowd spoke in the Lyconian language (14:11), but Paul and Barnabas didn’t understand until later (14:14). Some apparently believed the gospel, but the crowds stoned Paul and he left the city with Barnabas.
They then return to strengthen and encourage the disciples in at least three cities where churches had recently been started (14:21–23). They urged the Christians there to persevere in the midst of troubles. They also “appointed elders for them in every church” (14:23). Finally, they returned and reported to the sending church in Antioch (14:26–28).
Persecution could not hinder disciple-making or church planting. Remember, God used persecution to scatter the believers who eventually started the church in Antioch, the very same church that later sent out Paul and Barnabas to make disciples and start churches.
Acts 15 Luke describes a situation in which believers from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds reach an agreement over a very important issue. Then, interestingly, he describes how Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement, resulting in their going separate ways.
It seems to have taken a long time for Jewish Christians to understand God’s intentions to include non-Jews in the church. This shouldn’t be too surprising; after all, it took a divine vision to convince Peter.
Paul ultimately confronted these Jewish false teachers in the Antioch church (15:2) before he went to Jerusalem to settle the matter. In this chapter, pay close attention to how the Jerusalem church resolved the question. James listened to Peter and Paul’s stories, summarized what they said, compared it to Scripture, and then suggested a solution. Notice, too, the details Luke records and the humble and brotherly tone expressed in the letter sent from the church in Jerusalem to the Gentile churches.
Later, Paul and Barnabas sharply disagree about John Mark. This is the disagreement that results in their separation (15:39), just as their second missionary journey began. Providentially, this unfortunate outcome results in two sets of workers, functionally multiplying the work. At some point, Paul asks for Mark to come join him “because he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
- John Piper - You Will Suffer
By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org. Used by permission.
46 Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
- The Lord guided Peter as he prayed (Acts 9:6). The Antioch church prays as well, expecting their prayers to result in participation in the Spirit’s work (13:2–3). Perhaps you should prayerfully consider the question: Has the Holy Spirit called you (13:2) to go and make disciples in another place? If so, with which church leaders could you share this?
- In these chapters, we see Jesus’ followers endure hardship with joy. They have embraced the values of Christ’s kingdom and are looking forward to their heavenly reward. Re-read Luke 6:17–26 and reflect on how these ordinary, early followers of Jesus lived. Reflect also on how they were like the houses built on the solid rock (Luke 6:46–48).
- Consider both the amazing agreement and the sharp disagreement described in Acts 15. Godly Christians from different backgrounds can find ways to agree and work together. At the same time, mature, godly believers like Paul and Barnabas may provoke one another and choose not to work closely together. In any case, God’s mission still goes forward—and in this case in particular, Paul and Barnabas did eventually reach agreement about John Mark (Colossians 4:10).
- Read the brief explanation below of a Person of Peace, and then watch this teaching on a Person of Peace (3:38). When introducing yourself, take an opportunity to include something that identifies you as a follower of Jesus. Watch for people’s responses and for those who seem interested in spiritual discussions. Those with spiritual interest won’t be put off. [Making Disciples]
AS WE LIVE OUR LIVES, BE ALERT TO DISCOVER “PERSONS OF PEACE.”
READ AND LEARN
Missionaries and church planters talk about finding “persons of peace” in a neighborhood, city, or marketplace. Often the person of peace will have friends and relatives who are open to gospel witness and are welcoming to followers of Jesus. Finding them is but one “tool of the trade” that assists us in locating those in whom God may be at work in a community. Often, these people or “households of peace” are like a gateway relationship into a family, neighborhood, or community. Consider prayerfully seeking them out as you go about living more intentionally.
While we’re not required by Scripture to use this approach, we can see this pattern or principle in the New Testament:
- Luke 7:1–10 (The Centurion)
- John 4:1–30 (The Samaritan Woman)
- Acts 8:26–40 (The Ethiopian Eunuch)
- Acts 10:9–11:1 (Cornelius)
- Acts 16:13–15 (Lydia)
- Acts 16:22–38 (The Philippian Jailer)
We can often recognize the person of peace because they will:
- welcome you
- receive you
- be open to you and your friendship
- be open to what you have to say about Jesus
- be interested in and open to the life you live as a follower of Jesus
- assist or serve you in some ways
Review the passages above and look for these six characteristics.
GO AND DO
As you go about your daily life, learn to pray and be alert to these people of peace. Be intentional; look for them. Calibrate your spiritual radar so you can “catch” the opportunities God provides as you simply pray and look around.
Be intentional about seeking out people of peace, and expect that God will be at work in some. Only the Holy Spirit can open blind eyes and change hearts and grant repentance and faith in Christ. Pray to encounter people of peace, listen to and learn their stories, and then be ready to tell your own story (testimony). Finally, though, be sure to tell them the gospel.
As you meet these potential people of peace, remember to let Jesus be the filter. We go in Jesus’ name, with His authority to be and make disciples, so we need not fear if we meet some people who are NOT people of peace. It’s true that some won’t welcome us or want our friendship. As we identify with Jesus, they may reject us. They may not be open to friendship with us. That’s okay—Jesus is a divisive person. Let Jesus be the filter.
Consider the following ideas for finding persons of peace and plan some of these with your group:
- Bold prayer: Pray and ask for Persons of Peace to be brought across your daily paths.
- Prayer walking: Prayer walk in different kinds of neighborhoods and communities.
- Meet people: Get out and be with people. Spend time in strategic places and areas the Spirit has laid on your heart as you have prayed and talked with others.
- Intentionally sow broadly: Actively go to a number of places and people—as the old adage goes, don’t just fish in one pond.
- Tell them the gospel: In your conversations, use Jesus and the gospel as your filter.
- Use honest questions: Ask questions about their passions, difficulties, and things that are important to them. Ask if they are interested in learning about Jesus. Ask them if they know others who may be interested.
- Urge a response: Invite them to respond to the gospel, and invite them to learn more about Jesus in the Word.
- Reconnecting: Ask for their contact information so you can reconnect and continue the conversation.
- Remember the Spirit: Regardless of how you think it went, expect that God the Spirit is at work bringing conviction and opening hearts—expect the unexpected.
Check out the below resource for some practical ways to find People of Peace.