Pastor Barry/ The Gathering Acts #10: Passing The Torch To hear this message and others download our free app at the App Store: Search The Gathering Connect
The Church in Antioch Acts 11:19-30
As we learned earlier in our studies, when Stephen was killed a great persecution broke out and disciples of The Way traveled as far as Phoenicia (5,656 miles from Jerusalem), Cypress (254 miles from Jerusalem) and Antioch (300 miles from Jerusalem), but as we learned last week they only preached the gospel to the Jews until Peter gave the “all clean” message to the church. Some; however, did go to Antioch and preach to the Greeks (gentiles) there and many were saved! News of this reached Jerusalem after Peter’s vision and then Barnabas went to Antioch to see for himself. He also saw many come to the Lord and so he went to Tarsus and brought Saul (Paul) to Antioch where they both stayed in ministry there for one year. Antioch is where the disciples were first called “Christians.”
A prophet named Agabus came to Antioch from Jerusalem and predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. This occurred during the reign of Claudius and is supported by historians Orosius and Josephus. Christians at the church in Antioch sent financial gifts to the brothers and sisters living in Judea through Barnabas and Saul.
“Follow Me” Acts 12:1-4, John 21:18-24
What we find in these verses is life at its most confusing state. Why do good people die at the hands of evil men, and how is it that God miraculously delivers one and allows another to pass into eternity? The life of a believer can be compared to running a race with a torch. One carries it valiantly and passes it on to the next igniting each new generation with an example of faith and courage. God’s plan is not that we run the entire distance alone, but that we as a team finish well together.
The death of the Apostle James at the hand of Herod appeared to be a horrible end to his life; however, he was successful in handing the torch of the gospel to his brother John and their good friend Peter. James and John had once been labeled by Jesus as the “sons of thunder” for their zeal in ministry (Mark 3:17). They and Peter were Jesus’ closest friends (see Matthew 17:1). James was the first apostle to be killed, while John would be the last to die, and of old age. Peter would also die later as a martyr.
Once Jesus told Peter that he would die in such a way for the faith (John 21:18-19), at that time Peter saw John and asked “what about him?” Jesus answered what he might well answer to us if we were to ask a similar question regarding the death of our loved ones: “what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:20-22) Jesus was not being rude, he was simply being honest. Everyone will die, but to die as a public testimony of faith (as Stephen’s death witnessed also to Saul: Acts 7:59-60, 8:1) is to run valiantly indeed!
Passing the Torch “Running The Race” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The history of Olympic fire is based on Greek Mythology, but the symbol of the Olympic torch, first introduced at the Berlin games in 1936, has become more of an ideal of unity, legacy and endurance. The Apostle Paul encouraged fellow believers to “run” (live) in such a way as to get the “prize” (the promises of God). Paul used the Olympic games then to make a spiritual point as I am doing now:
- Live to get the “prize” (The promises of God): Everyone lives, but not everyone gets the promises of God- only those who pursue them. Ask, Seek, knock. (Matthew 7:7-8)
- Train to get the “prize”: An undisciplined athlete will never win a “crown” (olive leaves then). An undisciplined Christian will never enjoy the promises of God. When it comes time to pass the torch, his children may hold nothing but a smoldering baton. The greatest blessing is to see your children become twice the person you are in the faith. They are watching and learning.
- Do not run aimlessly: To live for God we must have a plan. What is your purpose in life? Is it to accumulate material things, gain knowledge or the accolades of men? What is the “running” for if it is not to help others also win the prize? And if we do train others in this worthwhile race, shall we slow down and stop ourselves to become disqualified? We must run until we reach our goal and pass that blazing torch to the runner who succeeds us.
- Make Your Body a slave: Your mind should be controlled by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:6). Now; therefore, your mind should tell your body what to do and not the other way around!
Take It Off! Hebrews 12:1-2, 3-7
Continuing this theme of “running”, the Apostle Paul described his audience as those people of faith that went on before him. In light of that “great cloud of witnesses”, Paul tells us to throw off everything that hinders us and run with perseverance.
Greek athletes ran in the nude. No wind drag, no entanglements, nothing hindered them in their race. As a matter of fact, all Greek athletes competed in the nude. Paul is telling us to take off anything that hinders us in our spiritual quest to be like Christ. What needs to be “thrown off” in your life? Fix your eyes on Jesus and rid yourself of all distractions.
Finally, what serious athlete doesn’t have a disciplining coach? God disciplines us when we slack off in the race. He convicts us of sin, He rebukes us when we are wrong, He chastises us when we are weak. God is a tough coach, but he treats us as sons. He expects His sons and daughters to win the prize and to pass on the torch! “You must follow me”, said Jesus!
Pray Expecting Acts 12:5-17, James 1:6-8
As we read the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison you will note that neither Peter nor the church (who was earnestly praying for him) really believed that God would deliver him. We are to pray believing as James (brother of Jesus) reminds us in his letter. Pray like you run: expecting to win!
The Weak and the Strong Acts 12:18-25, Philippians 3:12-14
The definition of “weak” and “strong” is vastly different in the eyes of God and of the world. Herod was weak. For man’s applause he had James killed, in his rage he had his guards killed, and in his pride God killed him (with parasites)! “Pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Real strength is in God and those who choose to depart from him will always face defeat. “But the Word of God continued to increase and spread.” As long as there are believers who live out their faith there will be a fire of life that spreads. We must be people of faith who run the race (life) like James ran his, like Peter ran his after him, and like I will run mine and my children after me. One day, all we who have run will rest in glory (as the winning team) but until then…”press on” and pass the torch!