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The Disappearance of Preaching

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 13:13–52

There can be no substitute for the forthright, faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s sermon in Acts 13 is the standard for what our message to the world should be, and it is centered on the death and resurrection of Christ.


I heard some time ago of a pastor who decided to cut out the sermon and give people a twenty-minute service—a few prayers, a couple of hymns, communion, the benediction, and you are on your way home. I heard an interview with another pastor, whose church had more than 10,000 members. He told the reporter that he no longer wanted to be called a preacher, but a communicator. That was a more sophisticated title for him.

I thought of the apostle Paul who told Pastor Timothy, “I was appointed a preacher” (1 Timothy 2:7). And later he wrote to Timothy, urging him to “preach the word” in 2 Timothy 4:2. And that was not a suggestion; that was a command.

To forsake the preaching of the Word of God is to abandon the central function of the church gathering. It neglects the central focus of the mission of the church today.

Now here in Acts chapter 13, Paul, Barnabas, and Mark sail to the mainland of Asia Minor—this is modern-day Turkey. They eventually make it to the city of Antioch of Pisidia in the province of Galatia.

Before they launch their mission here, however, verse 13 delivers the alarming announcement that “John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” This is John Mark, or simply Mark. He is the cousin of Barnabas according to Colossian 4:10, and he will eventually write the Gospel of Mark. But at this point in his life, he literally quits. He leaves Paul and Barnabas in the lurch. And his failure is going to lead to an argument over in Acts 15 that will split this missionary team apart. More on that later.

Paul and Barnabas begin their ministry in Antioch on the Sabbath day. They do not just barge into the synagogue; they wait on God to open the door for ministry, and the door opens in the synagogue here in verse 15:

After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.”

It is possible they had heard that Paul was a graduate student under the great Rabbi Gamaliel.

Now keep in mind that Paul does not have a New Testament passage to preach from; he simply begins to preach from the Old Testament. And we don’t have to guess what he said because we have some of his sermon manuscript here:

“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness.” (verses 16-18)

This is an interesting description of God’s relationship with Israel—God “put up with them.” That sounds like what God has to do with me from time to time. Maybe today you are struggling with how God seems to be managing your life. Maybe you are unhappy with how God is running your universe. Are you complaining today like the nation of Israel did in the wilderness? Would you have to say that God puts up with you? Wouldn’t you rather say, “God is partnering with me today, as I trust Him”?

Paul continues preaching here, now referring in verse 22 to Israel’s beloved King David:

“[God] raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’”

At this point, Paul introduces the Son of David, their Messiah and Redeemer. He boldly declares here in verse 23, “Of [David’s] offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”

This is a shocking statement to make in this synagogue. Jesus is the Messiah! But Paul immediately calls to the witness stand the prophet John the Baptist. John had agreed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Paul continues with a reminder of what the nation did to Jesus:

“For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed.” (verses 27-28)

They heard the Scriptures read every Saturday in the synagogue, but they missed it—they did not recognize how the prophetic fingers were all pointing to Jesus. And by the way, the Jewish people as a whole—and most of the Gentile world today—is still missing Him. They might even hear the Bible every so often, but they do not recognize the Savior.

The human race has the unique ability to hear but not listen. I can do that sometimes when my wife asks me to take out the garbage—I hear her, but I am not listening. And that gets me into trouble sometimes. How about you?

Listen, even we Christians get into trouble when we refuse to listen to God’s Word. When biblical truth gets a little too convicting and challenges us to do something, or stop something, or change something—well, we can close our ears in self-defense and miss the truth we need to apply to our lives.

Paul’s generation missed the Messiah. How tragic it was that they did not want to listen to the living Word, the Lord Jesus.

But Paul does not stop there:

But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.” (verses 30-31)

The Messiah is not a dead man but a resurrected Lord!

With that declaration, Paul wraps up his preaching with application. In verse 38, he says, “Through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

Now after this sermon the people beg him to speak again. And let me tell you, that is a nice compliment for a preacher. When the next Sabbath rolls around, verse 44 tells us, “Almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” This is turning into a massive evangelistic rally; the place is packed with standing room only.

The Jewish leaders, of course, are not very happy about all this. So, they begin “to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him” (verse 45).

But that doesn’t slow Paul and Barnabas down. They both speak out with boldness—verse 46:

“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.”

This is the missionary pattern. They proclaim to the Jewish people that Jesus is their Messiah. When they reject this truth, the apostles shift their focus to the Gentiles. And were the Gentiles ever glad to hear the preaching of the gospel to them!

Even though many Gentiles believe the gospel, verse 50 tells us, “The Jews . . . stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.”

But notice what is left in their wake: “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (verse 52). John Phillips wrote, “[They] might be able to drive out the servants of God, but they could not drive out the Spirit of God.”[1]

Two questions strike me from this passage. First, are we demanding that God’s Word be preached in our churches, or are we complacently aiding in the disappearance of the Bible from our churches today? Second, is God putting up with us, or is He partnering with us as we take the gospel to our world? Hey, let’s partner with the Lord as we live for Him today.

[1] John Phillips, Exploring Acts, Volume Two: Acts 13–28 (Moody Press, 1986), 47.

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