The Road Ahead–sermon text version

road ahead.jpgThe road ahead is rarely as predictable as the road behind. The future can be unclear but hindsight is almost always 20/20. Depending on our goals and our calling, the same road which led us to the present may diverge and become a fork in the road.  Such is the case in today’s passage from the Book of Acts.

Last week, there was a sharp disagreement between the Gospel dream team Barnabas and Paul vs. the Pharisaical Christians who wanted the Law and circumcision to endure as a requirement. The dream team’s insistence on “grace alone” triumphed and the Jerusalem Council –all of one mind–sent a letter to Antioch to settle matters.

The road ahead for the brothers from Jerusalem was pretty clear: Go to Antioch. Read the letter. Come home. A round trip. A defined destination. There and back.

So, the brothers all went to Antioch, read the letter to all the people, they were gathered in total agreement; they were glad, encouraged; and they were of one mind as well. No more talk of dissension in our passage. A storybook ending of “they lived happily ever after.”

Everything should be fine, right?  Well, not really.

We’re at a point in the Book of Acts in which we can begin to piece together the greater New Testament, plugging it into where it fits in Acts and a picture of trouble emerges. The Jerusalem brothers have no sooner headed back safe and sound, aiming for that happily ever after, when Antioch takes a different path. The road ahead is a troubled one.

Not unlike the trouble that appears in many churches when a seed of trouble gets planted, dissension grows, and confrontation takes hold. This all happens in what we innocently we read in Acts 15, verse 35

35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Galatians 2 fills us in on what was happening behind the scenes and it isn’t pretty. The road ahead is rocky. Paul is not a happy camper. His vision of a ministry of grace to the Gentiles—a calling from Christ Jesus Himself—is still being undermined by people he calls the “circumcision group,” sometimes known as the Judaizers. That same group who had caused the need for last week’s Court Decision in the first place are back at it, insisting that Gentiles first had to become Jews and then Christian. Well, they’re not only back at it, they’re using intimidation and threats.

chainedOpposition never gives up.

Standing firm is a constant battle.

Where the Gospel is concerned, the opposition is relentless and fierce. Eternity is at stake.  Satan is a defeated enemy, but a nasty and vindictive one.

Keeping people in slavery is our adversary’s goal.

Galatians 2: 4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

Paul, true to his character, focuses on the Gospel and the truth. It’s part of how he is gifted by the Spirit. Which brings up a really interesting point: other church leaders were gifted differently, even if they were all notable people and good leaders. But where matters of Christian doctrine are concerned, Paul is steadfast, even more than a bit stubborn.

Galatians 2:8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

His words come across as rather harsh, aimed directly at Peter and Barnabas and others, possibly John Mark, too: Galatians 2:14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. ..21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Paul’s vision of the road ahead was clear: the doctrine of grace cannot be compromised (for his whole ministry was based on it!) So what we see in so innocent a verse of Acts 15:

35 But Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

..this only shows that the fact was they remained in Antioch teaching. The flavor is the bittersweet truth: it wasn’t all fun and friendship. Truth stands immovable, even between friends. Even among leaders. Even among the God-ordained as both Paul and Peter had been. Pride and fear had long been Peter’s fatal flaws and it was both pride in wanting to be seen as a superior Jew and fear of what others thought that crept into Peter’s daily actions to the point where he did not follow 100% of what he believed.

There’s a lesson for us today in this:

Standing for God’s truth isn’t easy, especially where it threatens to divide us from our families and our friends. It challenges our loves and our priorities. But stand we must.

Paul—with his brilliant mind, impeccable logic, and powerful passion—refused to let it go. Too much was at stake, particularly if these leaders were to be effective! So he says,

Galatians 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

Yet, Peter in his epistle says this about Paul:

2 Peter 3:15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

By this time, Peter and Paul—despite the earlier confrontation—came to an agreement on the Truth. They were brothers, true brothers, living in both grace and forgiveness. But now, we turn to another disagreement in the road ahead. Back to Acts 15:

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Suddenly Barnabas and Paul who were of one mind on the Gospel during last week’s Court Decision, began a distancing when Peter led even Barnabas astray.  Now Barnabas and Paul become divided over non-theological things like taking John Mark. After all, there was no 11th commandment saying, “Thou shalt take John Mark.”

If you look at the passage in verse 35, Paul’s name now appears first. He has become the leader, Barnabas is secondary. Like Peter last week, Barnabas will not appear again in the Book of Acts. Although he will be mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:6, demonstrating that the both Paul and Barnabas would be known together, and it can be reasonably inferred that they even worked together at Corinth (which Paul, at this point in Acts, has not yet visited).

blameScholars are quick to say that “It is significant that after so many centuries of study, the church is still not sure who was at fault in the conflict between Paul and Barnabas.”

They talk about how Christians, especially leaders, should not disagree sharply.

Even John Stott says, “this example of God’s providence may not be used as an excuse for Christian quarreling.”

Scholars say that what we see between Barnabas and Paul should not be considered the norm when Christian leaders disagree. That it is an exception brought about by human error rather than by divine design.

It’s my opinion that all these scholars are totally missing the boat. Truth is not relative, but a calling is personal.

Christians ought to contend for the Gospel. Even fight for it. Maybe the church in America wouldn’t be in such sad shape if we spent more time fighting for the Truth and less time saying “Can’t we all just get along?” Just because Christians call themselves Christian doesn’t make their theology right.

Adam_and_Eve_FallThe truth stands firm.

And when the truth presses into a situation, it acts as a wedge. It divides.

Scholars are looking for who is right and who is wrong.

They want to blame someone for the dispute.

That’s a totally carnal, fleshly, human, and I might add, it’s an evil thing to do.

Blame has been the modus operandi since Eden when Adam blamed the woman, woman blamed the serpent, and the serpent blamed bad sushi (not really, but you get my point)

But when the FACT of TRUTH pressed in on Barnabas and Paul, it didn’t become relative…what was true for Barnabas versus what was true for Paul. Truth pressed in as a wedge and divided them among their callings.

Their callings, their roles, their personalities were highly personal. Those are what can be relative and individual.

The wedge of truth presses in on the mission to Barnabas. The truth shines in and reveals Paul’s superior doctrinal understanding. Barnabas’ calling, his mission, is still to encourage. Encouragers always see potential. Barnabas saw it in Paul. He sees it in John Mark.

The wedge of truth presses in on Paul. Yes, the truth shines in and reveals Paul’s superior doctrinal understanding, but it also reveals Barnabas’ superior understanding of grace, mercy, and hope.

The truth stands and the road ahead splits in two based upon calling.

  • Barnabas goes off to encourage and nurture John Mark who would go on to write the Gospel of Mark. This is the fruit of Barnabas’ calling as an encourager as he walked the road before him of encouraging.
  • Paul focuses on unhindered mission to the Gentiles. He can’t have John Mark constantly reminding everyone that Mark deserted everyone once before. They were going to visit the churches they’d already visited and constantly having to explain this deserter would be a distraction. Paul was absolutely right for his unhindered calling and throwing off everything that might prevent his doing what God had called him to do: plow new ground among the Gentiles.

Barnabas offers us a view of grace and the value of 2nd chances. Paul offers us a view of purity and the value of doctrine. Together they show us to watch our life and doctrine closely. Grace and Truth.  What the Bible says Jesus came in.

The road ahead for the Jerusalem Council brothers had been easy and familiar: back home.

The road for Barnabas and Paul had been a rocky one. A hard one, but good one. The wedge of truth pressed in and divided up the callings. There would be a fork in the road—one path leading toward grace and encouragement; the other toward the necessity of purity of doctrine in plowing new ground for the Gospel. Both embraced grace and truth, but their callings pointed to a priority, a first order of business.  Paul takes Silas and they were commissioned by the church to the grace of the Lord. We aren’t told that Barnabas and Mark were. Perhaps they were as well and the focus has merely shifted to Paul’s ministry now.

But it’s no reason for finding comparison, apostasy, and blame in the silence. Why? Because finally, when we look at this passage, we also see the high road of God’s crazy math. God’s crazy math in which division is actually multiplication. In which, subtraction becomes addition.

pile of cornAnd the whole of God’s plan takes the sovereign high road, seeing disagreement and scattering as increasing a harvest.
If you take a pile of corn kernels and bury the pile in a field, you’ll get a rotten pile of corn.
But in the wisdom of the farmer, if it is subtracted from a pile and scattered across a wide area, each kernel fulfills what was in the mind of the farmer:
life and a fuller harvest.

Bette Midler sings a song that captures incorrectly what I’m talking about. It’s a beautiful song and I want to read the lyrics to make a point.

    • From a distance the world looks blue and green
    • And the snow-capped mountains white
    • From a distance the ocean meets the stream
    • And the eagle takes to flight
    • From a distance, there is harmony
    • And it echoes through the land
    • It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace
    • It’s the voice of every man
    • From a distance we all have enough
    • And no one is in need
    • And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease
    • No hungry mouths to feed
    • From a distance we are instruments
    • Marching in a common band
    • Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace
    • They’re the songs of every man
    • God is watching us, God is watching us
    • God is watching us from a distance


The truth is God is NOT watching us from a distance. Distinctions and disagreements don’t just disappear as they would for people looking at things from a distance. A whitewash; a covering, a gloss. God sees all things clearly, and not merely 20/20. God sees even huge disputes and minor disagreements with perfect clarity. Because He takes the high road, He sees how it all fits together within his framework of truth.


  • LongAndWindingRoadSometimes, the road ahead is a familiar road back home, to report back on all the good that has been faithfully done.
  • Sometimes, the road ahead is rocky and we have challenges to navigate to keep our lives and our doctrine pure.
  • Sometimes, the road ahead is to nurture and encourage others using gifts of encouragement or faith, having hope, or believing the best in people.
  • Sometimes, the road ahead means parting company for the sake of Kingdom growth.
  • Sometimes, the road ahead will involve confrontation and hard truths.
  • Sometimes, the road ahead is to demonstrate God’s ability to turn division into multiplication via His high road. We don’t need to focus on who is to blame. Instead, we can trust that when the wedge of truth presses in, it will reveal how His standard of truth—which never changes—will apply to each of us individually based on our calling.

 May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been

The foresight to know where you are going,

And the insight to know when you have gone too far.

That might sum up the road ahead.  When God is in charge, even problems aren’t really a problem. He doesn’t see us from a distance and ignore the details. If the devil is in the details, that’s where God is doing His most powerful spiritual battle. Pressing in with a wedge of truth to defeat both lies and hypocrisy, uncovering what is real and true and then covering it over with love and grace for those who love Him.

May we know this as our benediction for the road ahead.  It’s an Irish blessing that could have applied to Barnabas and Paul:  “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”


Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on July 9, 2015

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1 Comment

  1. by Kathy

    On July 10, 2015

    I love this message! It was just what I needed to begin this new day!
    Thanks so much!
    Your sister in Christ!

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