Happy New Year!
Today as we walk into Acts 13, let me tell you right where we are going. My faith says that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus is the Christ, the promised Savior of the world. Jesus delivered not from political oppression, but from the oppression of our sin (things that separate us from the love of God).
Peter saw it and had faith in it:
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16)
And a beautiful part of the narrative is that while Peter got it here in this moment, his story was not one of always getting it from that point on.
So, who is Jesus, the Messiah? Let’s go back to John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4,14)
Jesus is God, has always existed, is distinct in God and is completely God. He is God with us. Yet responses to Jesus are so radically different. We have seen that repeatedly in the first 12 chapters of Acts. But the varied responses didn’t end in Acts. I can even see it in myself, even comparing myself in different seasons of life.
My responses to Jesus can be radically different. They might include trust, questioning, fear, shame, infatuation, hope, dismissal, frustration, or faith… Today we walk towards processing that.
Let’s think about this in the context of a new year. Think about 2021. Let me pull us to the 30,000-foot perspective. Thinking globally, thinking culturally, thinking as a whole:
What were some of the moments that shaped the world in 2021?
The pandemic continued. Vaccines became available. There was a presidential transition of power culminating on January 6. There were migration crises. We had the verdict of Derek Chauvin. We saw supply chain breakdowns and inflation. We exited Afghanistan. There was climate change impact.
We all have something in common–we all just experienced 2021. But there is an obvious thing that I am going to ask us to talk about. Because when you start to put words to it, it starts to become less obvious. Why are there such varied responses to similar experiences?
We all experienced 2021. We have that in common. Yet we all process differently, respond differently, experience differently, see differently, feel differently, believe differently, understand differently. Why? Put this into words.
Why are there such varied responses to similar experiences?
I am sure many of the obvious things have been brought up: different backgrounds, points of view, personalities, worldviews, emotional states, and environments. The endless complexity that feeds into response becomes apparent. We have all seen it, experienced it, lived it.
Remembering where we are going today, that responses to Jesus are so radically different, I am going to open up two more moments of dialogue before we get to the text.
Remembering both the moments that shaped the world in 2021 and the varied responses to those moments:
How do you tend to internally and externally react when you and someone else have varied responses to similar experiences?
Pick something random. Maybe it’s bowling. Maybe you love bowling. Maybe you hate bowling. Imagine that you go bowling with someone who sees it very differently from you. And you get done and someone asks, “How was bowling?” And one of you may answer, “It was great!” while the other one may answer, “It was terrible!”
Obviously life is more complex than a bowling outing with friends. But this shows us that even in something simple, we can have varied responses. How much more do our responses vary as things get more and more complex? Belief systems, faith, parenting, friendship, social issues–we could make a very long list.
What is your responsibility to people and situations where there are radically different reactions to shared experiences?
In Acts Jesus gave this commission:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
We have seen this being lived out, starting out with a glimpse of utopia (a mass acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and radical selfless cultural formation). But complexity and imperfections surfaced quickly (immediately).
The powerful theme has been building: Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus has entrusted people. People and situations are imperfect. Jesus is still the Messiah. People and situations are still imperfect. Jesus is still the Messiah. Jesus still entrusts.
We saw this flashing light in the text in chapter 12:
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish. (Acts 12:24)
The mystery of God is that His will and way exist in the complexities and imperfections of the world we know and live in. And now today we get a glimpse into radically different responses to Jesus–radically different responses to similar experiences.
We will see obedience to the radical call, misunderstanding, defiance and opposition, embracing and transformation, dismissal, resolution to obstruct, persecution, and even violence.Not so simple.
It is easy to presume that everyone will “respond” appropriately. It is easy to presume that everyone will respond as you do. But what do we do if it doesn’t go that way? And the ultimate complexity–what if those “strange” responses are inside of me?
Let’s walk into the text: Acts 13:1-52
- They heard directly from God and responded (vs. 2-3)
- Sergius Paulus wanted to hear more about Jesus (vs. 7)
- Elymas didn’t want anyone to follow Jesus (vs. 9)
- Sergius Paulus believed (vs. 12)
- Leaders of the synagogue in Pisidian wanted to hear more (vs. 15)
- Many believed the Good News that was shared (vs. 43)
- Some saw the growing number of believers and were filled with jealousy (vs. 44-45)
- The Gentiles were honored that the Good News was for them (vs. 48)
- The Jewish leaders incited persecution and expelled Paul and Barnabas from the region (vs. 49-50)
- The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit (vs. 52)
Jesus in all of this was not different. The message was available. It was even heard. Yet the responses were all over the place.
Zoom out and think back to our time in John, where there were all kinds of examples of responses to Jesus. Here are some responses of people who decided they would follow:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:35-42 )
And some responses of people who decided they would not follow, and actually would pose opposition.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69)
Why do people have such varied responses to Jesus, then and now?
We have to remember that Jesus isn’t American. He’s not even Western. And neither were any of the people He lived with or spent His life with.
While there are good generalizations to take from what we read, we have to remember the context. Jesus didn’t ask people to raise their hand and say a prayer after hearing a pastor talk about heaven. These things aren’t inherently bad, but there’s more.
Jesus called people to follow Him. We are called to follow Him.
We see it in several places in the Gospel of Matthew–a theme! He called Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats:
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)
He called Matthew from his tax collecting booth:
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9)
He called the rich young ruler from his life of privilege:
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
He was open about the sacrifice in following Him:
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:18-20)
He was unwavering on the urgency of responding to the call to follow Him:
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22)
If you want to be My disciple, follow Me!
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
The call to follow was and is for everyone, AND it’s complicated. The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus, unwilling to give up everything (Matthew 19). Zacchaeus publicly gave up all he had and followed Jesus (Luke 19). The woman caught in the act of adultery was called to leave her life of sin (John 8). The Samaritan woman believed as she saw her imperfections being known (John 4). The religious authorities saw the miracles and heard the messages, but still did not see Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 11).
In our context, it can be easy to package faith and try and present it to people as something commercial. “Here’s the Jesus package, do you want it? Yes? Okay well here it is. No? Are you sure? But you should want it!”
There’s complexity in the misguided, simplified versions of Jesus that we present. What’s real and true about faith or following Jesus is even more complicated. That’s not to say that understanding God is hidden or mystical or you have to jump through hoops. But actually following might require a lot of thought and decision making, and in that we see why responses can be so varied, and that “finished'' might not be the goal.
Here is a man calling people to lay down their lives to follow Him. To be open to giving up everything to follow Him. And what does it mean to follow?
Again, thinking about context, Jesus and the people He spoke to were very familiar with shepherding. Shepherding is mentioned many times in scripture, and I assume it was a relatively common occupation. The best shepherds would lead their sheep from the front and the sheep would follow. There was no driving from behind, but the shepherd would use a staff to help guide sheep and a rod to help keep them safe and defend them from attackers. And the best of shepherds still lost sheep from time to time because sheep do what they want and don’t always follow.
We have built a lot of foundation to the range of responses to the same situation. Now, instead of ending with a conversation about others’ responses to Jesus, I want to give you a moment to process your response to Jesus. Not a response from some time ago, but now. How are you currently responding to Jesus? Following? Not following? Completely unsure of where you are? Lost?
A pretty central Old Testament figure, David, had a wide swing of responses to God. David had hope-filled moments:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, They comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:1-6)
David also had crushed moments:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
Jesus’ call to follow Him was for everyone. And it is for everyone. In light of your current perspectives/relationship/following, Jesus’ call to follow remains. No matter how you think you did in following him in the last year, His call is the same.
How has your 2021 impacted your current perspective of Jesus and relationship with Him?
Take It Deeper Questions
- What lines from famous speeches do you have memorized? How did you memorize them?
- If you were to emphasize one central truth about the Gospel, what would it be and why?
- Why doesn't everyone accept Jesus/the Gospel?
- Why is personal faith a moving target? Why is it normal to be bold, ashamed, confident, confused, transformed and/or unaffected over time?
- What is the danger of presuming that healthy faith is unchanging?
- How do you see your current reality impacting your faith?
- Where do you want to see your faith in Jesus in 2022?
Bible Reading Plan
- Deuteronomy 28
- Deuteronomy 29
- Deuteronomy 30
- Acts 6
- Acts 7
- Acts 8