Acts 12-13
(The Word of God Continued to Spread)
November 16th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

“ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

- Acts 13-47 (NIV)(Also Isaiah 49:6)

Summary of Chapters

These two chapters continue the story of the growing ministry of the apostles, the heightened persecution, and the miracles experienced during that time.

Chapter 12 describes the arrest by Herod Agrippa of both James (brother of John) and Peter on separate occasions. James was put to death, but Peter’s sentence was delayed so that Herod could put him on public trial.

While Peter was awaiting trial an angel came to rescue him. The angel freed his chains and led him through the gates to freedom. When he sought out some of the other faithful they could scarcely believe that he had truly escaped.

Instead of witnessing Paul put to death, Herod experienced it himself. He claimed to be a voice of a god, was struck down, and died.

    But the word of God continued to increase and spread.

    - Acts 12:24 (NIV)

Chapter 13 catches up with the work of Paul and Barnabas as they begin their first missionary journey together. After serving in Antioch for a while they were called by the Holy Spirit to Cyprus, along with Mark, where they preached in a Jewish Synagogue. They encountered a sorcerer who tried to thwart their work, but Paul prophesized that the man would go blind – and he immediately did.

Next Paul and others went to Perga and the Pisidian Antioch, where they also preached in the synagogue. Paul explained how the arrival of Jesus had fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

    “Dear brothers and sisters, children of Abraham, and friends of God, this message of salvation has been precisely targeted to you. The citizens and rulers in Jerusalem didn’t recognize who he was and condemned him to death. They couldn’t find a good reason, but demanded that Pilate execute him anyway. They did just what the prophets said they would do, but had no idea they were following to the letter the script of the prophets, even though those same prophets are read every Sabbath in their meeting places.

    “After they had done everything the prophets said they would do, they took him down from the cross and buried him. And then God raised him from death. There is no disputing that—he appeared over and over again many times and places to those who had known him well in the Galilean years, and these same people continue to give witness that he is alive.

    He accomplishes, in those who believe, everything that the Law of Moses could never make good on. But everyone who believes in this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God.

    - Acts 13:26-31, 39 (MSG)

Paul's sermons attracted nearly everyone in the city, and the word spread through the whole region. Eventually the religious leaders burned with jealousy and ran Paul and Barnabas out of town. Regardless of this rejection, Luke notes that they were not discouraged: “So they shook the dust off their feet (as Jesus had instructed) as a warning to them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:51-52 - NIV).”

Reflection and Application

Like Stephen, James paid the ultimate price for being an active Christian. Why was he allowed to die and Peter allowed to escape? Certainly God could have reversed their fates, or saved both, or let both die. The mystery behind the answers to these question is hard for us to fully understand, but we can recognize that we have roles to play in the kingdom of God, and that Peter’s role was just beginning. Not that Peter was perfect, as we have seen and shall continue to observe - but he had a role to be fulfilled.

Like Peter, we also are imperfect and have a role to fulfill. The more we study the Word and pray the more we are able to discern our unique role. When you read Peter’s summary of the Old Testament and the Gospels, as described in chapter 13, did you begin to recall some of the books that we have read this year?

After reading through the Bible up to this point we have a much better understanding of the story he is telling. It’s similar to the situation where we have attended a sporting event, opera, or movie and then relive all the individual moments as we read a review the next day. It was the same for the Jews in his audience who had studied these books and recognized the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. They knew that it was time for them to embrace this Truth and share it with others. How should we react?

Peter’s colleagues had a hard time believing that he had escaped. Luke writes that a servant girl had answered the door and declared that it was Peter, but no one believed her. Peter had to keep knocking on the door to regain their attention and convince them that he indeed had escaped. How compelled are we to believe this story?

If God can send angels to set people free then why didn’t he free Nelson Mandela, unfairly imprisoned in exile for so many years and why doesn’t he free prisoners incarcerated for crimes they did not commit? These are more difficult questions to answer, but God does have the power to do these things, when he wills it. Mandela was eventually freed in a spirit of reconciliation – perhaps resulting from God’s interventions with the key players.

In either case, as Christians, we are compelled to believe that he can and has performed the miracles described in the Bible, but are also compelled to accept that his will is not our will.

When we feel trapped in some type of figurative or literal prison we can pray to God and trust that he is with us and will eventually release us from our prisons – in one form or another.

The map on this page provides a rough approximation of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas (1).

The chapters in today's study followed Paul and Barnabas from the beginning of this journey: Antioch to Pisidian Antioch and Iconomium, with a few stops in between (Mark turned back just before they began the difficult and treacherous journey from the coast to Pisidian Antioch - see 13:13). We will read about the remainder of this journey in tomorrow's study.

As we study the map and ponder the journey of these early Christians we can reflect on situations where our efforts might have fallen short or where we were rejected. Notice that Paul and Barnabas did not sit around feeling discouraged when people turned against them. Instead, they “shook the dust of those experiences off their feet” and moved to the next assignment filled with joy. Our role is to deliver the message of the Good News, using words as necessary. Our audience has the free will to listen or not but it is not our responsibility to ensure that they do or to wait around until they wake up. God will take over after we leave, perhaps sending more messengers.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What was the last time you felt trapped or imprisoned in a situation? For some people it might be an experience stuck for many hours in a plane on the tarmac, for others it might be the frustration of being stuck in a job that doesn’t suit them. What about you?
    2. Which part of Acts has been the most difficult for you to believe?
    3. What would you write or say if you were asked to prepare a review of the book of Acts from chapters 1-13?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you have plans for us to prosper and be forgiven. Help us to trust in your plan.

    Prayer Concern
    Missionaries in Europe


    (1) Source: "Essential 100" from the Holy Comforter Church, Vienna, VA, 11/15/12.

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Acts 14-15 (Divisiveness and Reconciliation)

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