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Acts 13 & Matthew 16:15-18 by Robert Dean
Acts is a transition, a historical narrative that is descriptive, not a prescriptive pattern of what happens in the Church today. The phenomena of the church growth movement in the late 60s based church growth on sociological issues and stressed experience as a validation of the Bible. As is often the case with Satan’s plan, this method seemed to work. But understand fully the instruction Jesus gives Peter to feed His lambs while He builds the church. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter to manage an organization through techniques in church growth, but instructs him to proclaim and teach. Review Paul’s journeys and allow instruction from his many discourses to teach us how we can maximize our approach with the message of God’s Word to people in our lives with differing backgrounds.

Also includes John 21:15-17
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:59 mins 1 sec

Jerusalem to Rome. Acts 13, Matthew 16:15-18, John 21:15-17


Two conversations that Jesus had with Peter—foundational conversations. After the ascension Peter becomes the central leader for Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. Until we get to where we are in Acts Peter is still the primary leader. In Acts 13 there is a transition that takes place and things begin to change.

There are some things that we need to be aware of. First of all, a lot of people go to Acts to try to prove a lot of different things that they do in church and in their Christian life. But Acts is not written to teach us like the epistles are written; it is mostly narrative. There are some very important teaching principles in Acts but it is narrative literature; it is history. So it is historical literature which tells us what happened. It is descriptive; it just describes what happened. Describing what happened is not prescribing what happened. Saying this is what happened is not saying this is what should happen, or this is the pattern for everything in the rest of the church age. Remember, the book of Acts is a transitional book, it is taking us from the age of Israel at the very beginning to the church age which starts in the second chapter on the day of Pentecost. In the first chapter God the Holy Spirit has not come. He descends upon Christians in Acts chapter two. There is no baptism by means of the Holy Spirit in chapter one, no identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection in Acts chapter one. There is no freedom from the tyranny of the sin nature in Acts chapter one, but there is in Acts chapter two when the church begins. There is a shift in what happens and the way God works among His people. Something new came into existence in Acts chapter two—the church, the body of Christ, a new spiritual entity that replaced Israel in God's plan temporarily.

This is not replacement theology. There is a temporary cessation of God's primary work through Israel because of their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, but it is only a pause. There will be a restoration of God's primary work through Israel after the end of the church age when Christians are raptured to be with the Lord in the air.

What happens in between is that God is going to grow this entity. The question is asked: How does the church grow? Since the late 1960s there has been a unique phenomenon that has come into evangelical Christianity known as the church growth movement. It has its historical roots in a seminary that was spinning wildly out of control by the name of Fuller Theological Seminary. There were a number of key teachers there who had already departed from a belief in the infallible and inerrant Word of God and were basing more and more of their theology on experience. They were heavily influenced by sociological studies. They were building models for how you build the church on the basis of social studies rather than on the Word of God. They didn't ignore the Word of God, they just tried to study the Word of God and interpret it in light of sociological studies. There is another way of talking about this, and that is, do we interpret the Word of God on the basis of our experience or do we interpret our experience on the basis of the Word of God?

That is a crucial distinction because we have all kinds of experiencing. There are as many experiences of different things as there are people in any room. You can't invalidate somebody's experience. What can be questioned is their interpretation of that experience, because how we interpret that experience is determined by a lot of our belief system and how we understand the truth of God's Word.

We have this problem that came out of the nineteenth century of several great evils—evil ideas. Darwinistic thinking in terms of science, the rise of sociology through the thinking of Herbert Spencer and others, the rise of the psychology of Freud, and the rise of Marxism and communism through Karl Marx. These men have shaped where we are today; their thinking has shaped the culture today.

Today there are many theologians who will interpret the Bible on a Marxist basis. That is how we get liberation theology and black liberation theology. They are basically taking their ideas of economics and imposing that on the Scriptures, rather than letting the Bible teach economic principles and then letting those principles interpret the Bible. There is the same thing in psychology. People's problems are defined in terms of various psychological models—of which there are over 300 of how the human being is made up. All of those are based on experiences that various psychologists have, in combination with sociology. And this imp acted the social science (they claim) of church growth: that we can come up with laws and patterns for how to build the church. And, indeed, it seems to work. Satan doesn't maximize in counterfeits that fail, he maximizes in counterfeits that work and that have as close an approximation to biblical Christianity as possible. But it is still not biblical Christianity; it is a reliance on methodology and technique rather than on God the Holy Spirit and the truth of God's Word. And it is really tough to rely exclusively on God's methodology, on the Holy Spirit and on truth, because a lot of time people just reject the truth; and they are going to reject God more than they are going to get excited about Him.

Jesus lays down a couple of principles. In Matthew 16 He is talking to Peter. He asks the disciples: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" In verse 15 He says: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" [16] "Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" Peter nails it; he knows exactly who Jesus Christ is. Jesus responds, praising him for his answer: [17] "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal {this} to you, but My Father who is in heaven." This is not the result of finite human intelligence. All these things we have talked about—sociology, Marxism, psychology, etc.—are all based on empiricism and they exclude revelation as the starting point. But what Jesus is showing here is that there are some things we can learn through empiricism and rationalism but we can't learn some things apart from divine revelation. Without God giving us the key pieces of information through revelation we really can't put the data together correctly. We might come close in some areas but it really doesn't work. So Jesus is saying that you really don't know who Jesus is apart from God's revelation. This is not talking about a direct revelation of God like Saul of Tarsus had on the road to Damascus. That is not normative; it happened once in history.

Matthew 16:18 NASB "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." Jesus says He is going to build the church. He doesn't say, "Peter, you are going to build the church." This is a future active indicative of the verb oikodomeo [o)ikodomew]—oikos, a house, a building; domeo, building or construction. The fact that it is a future tense indicates that Jesus has not yet begun the process. The building of the church would take place in the future. It is a first person singular, which indicates that Jesus is saying He is the one who is going to do it. It is an active voice verb, meaning that Jesus performs the action of the verb. He builds the church!

Jesus has another conversation with Peter after the resurrection. John 21:15 NASB "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me more than these?'…" There is a play on words with "love"; there's a play on words with "lambs"; there's a play on words with "feed"; there's a play on words for feeding and tending. "… He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Tend My lambs.'"

Three times Jesus tells Peter, "Feed my lambs." He uses two different verbs. In verse 16 it is translated [NKJV] "Tend my sheep." It is actually the word poimaino [poimainw] which is the verb form for what a literal shepherd does. So it is used metaphorically here. It is taking that imagery and applying it to this circumstance. It is borrowing a metaphor; it is not literal. In verses 15 and 17 He uses the word bosko [boskw], a word that has the literal meaning of feeding or providing nourishment for someone. So there is the same verb used twice that is a literal verb with a literal meaning of feeding.

There is a point here that is missed by a lot of people and it is missed in translation. If we are wondering what in the world is going on here and trying to figure out why Jesus is going back and forth between these words a general rule is that a metaphorical figure of speech is used to depict the role of the leader of a congregation. He is a pastor. Basically that is a translation of the word meaning to shepherd. It is the noun form of poimen [poimhn] and it means to shepherd. Now what does it mean to shepherd? This is a figure of speech. We come to understand a figure of speech when it is used in a synonymous way with more literal language, and the literal language defines the figurative language. When we use an idiom, when we read any psalm where figures of speech are used we look at the synonymous parallelism in the verse and that gives a more concrete term that helps narrow the focus and understand the function of the figure of speech/metaphor. So the point of this is that shepherding is defined for us here. Jesus narrows the meaning of "shepherd" by using the synonym basko. The word means to feed, to provide nourishment. It doesn't mean all these other things that a literal shepherd can do. You may list fifty things that a literal shepherd does for sheep, but there is only one that applies in this figure of speech. There is only one part of this analogy referred to here and that is the role the shepherd has in taking the sheep to pasture where there is good grass, taking them away from the weeds and the poisonous grass and bad water and making sure they are nourished and healthy. That is the role of the pastor.

So Jesus is telling Peter of his role as an apostle, which is a model for a pastoral role. An apostle travelled and ministered to the entire body of Christ, they didn't just focus on one congregation. They pastured multiple congregations and they focused on feeding and nourishing the sheep by teaching them the Word and by training the leaders to do that. We see that depicted for us in the rest of the book of Acts. Acts shows us how Paul understood the pastoral role of an apostle. It involved evangelism. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. If you have the gift of a pastor-teacher that doesn't mean you don't do the work of an evangelist. And that isn't restricted to just giving the gospel but it is part of training people to be able to accurately give the gospel.

The point here: Jesus said, "I will build my church; you feed the sheep." Jesus doesn't say: "You build the church and figure out somebody else who is going to feed them." That is the model you have in so many congregations today where the pastor is viewed as the CEO, the promoter of the church, the one who manages and administers everything. Then they have small groups or Sunday school classes and things like that, and then amateurs who don't have much training at all where most of the teaching takes place within these different small groups and where the pastor is the Encourager-in-Chief. That is not the Bible at all. The Bible says it is the pastor who is supposed to feed the sheep, and Jesus builds the church. That is exactly what we see in the book of Acts. It is the Holy Spirit who is expanding the church.

What we should notice is that Peter and Paul do not rely on techniques or various other methodologies in order to establish the church. What do they do? They teach the Word, the feed the sheep, the people respond, and God the Holy Spirit is the one who builds the church.

In Acts chapter thirteen we see a new expansion begin through the church at Antioch. The is a major shift that takes place because up through the end of chapter twelve the focus has been on the church at Jerusalem but now in chapter thirteen the focus goes to the church at Antioch of Syria. God expands the church to the ends of the earth. Notice: It is God doing all the action. The leaders are simply being empowered and directed by God; this is not a human effort.

A major shift is taking place now from a Jewish focus to a Gentile focus, from Jewish geography to Gentile geography. It is extremely important to understand what is going on in this transition period. In the second half of the book from chapter thirteen through the end of the book we are going to see two things: a) God expands the church into Asia Minor and then into Greece/Europe. This is covered in the first two missionary journeys of Paul that are covered in Acts 12:25-18:22; b) God expands the church to Rome. This involves Paul's third missionary journey. Then he goes back to Jerusalem, is arrested and transported back to Rome. He is there for a couple of years, then released. The book of Acts ends while he is still a prisoner in Rome in the first imprisonment. There is nothing that tells us what happens after that.

Here is an easy thing to remember. Paul had basically four journeys. We speak of them as three missionary journeys and his trip to Rome. This is how we remember what Paul wrote on each journey. After the first he wrote one book (Galatians). After the second journey he wrote two (1 & 2 Thessalonians). After the third journey he wrote three (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians). On the fourth journey he wrote four. (Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon). After the first imprisonment he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus. During his last imprisonment he wrote 2 Timothy.

One of the interesting things that we will have to spend some time on is the discourses of Paul—when Paul teaches and Paul talks. The NKJV frequently uses the term "preaching" or "making proclamation" and different words are used. The major word translated "preach" is really the Greek word euangelizo [e)uaggelizw] which means to proclaim the good news, to give the gospel. It is where we get our word "evangelism." Another word that is used is katangello [kataggellw] which means to proclaim something. This is related to the gospel presentation. It is an announcement of something. This relates also to the word kerugma [khrugma] which is also translated "preach" and is often related to the gospel. This gospel is not taught; the gospel is proclaimed. Isn't that interesting!

We need to think that through because in our modern world today when we go to a lot of churches today, they preach. "Preach" isn't what Paul emphasizes in the pastoral epistles. He emphasizes teaching the Word, teaching the household of God, giving them instruction so that they learn the content of the Scriptures and the faith. Preaching is related to giving the gospel, proclaiming the good news that Jesus Christ has come to pay for our sins. So it is related to a particular content. What we have done in the perversion of modern American Christianity is make preaching and evangelism related to a rhetorical style. When you redefine biblical words to mean something they don't mean in the Bible then when people go back and read it in the Bible they are all confused.

The first place Paul has a discourse is when he goes to Antioch in Pisidia. In Acts 13:16-41 he is preaching the gospel to Jews in the synagogue. It will be very instructive to see how he approaches it because of the nature of his Jewish audience. When he is in Lystra he is going to be addressing a Gentile audience that doesn't have any Old Testament background and he teaches them from a totally different perspective. You have to know who you are talking to, you have to know your audience. In Acts 17 he is again addressing a very well educated audience in Athens. In Ephesus (Acts 19:35-41) there is another presentation to the rioting crowds that have been stirred up by various lies against Paul. Then he goes to Jerusalem after the third missionary journey. We have him addressing Jews in Acts 22:1-21, addressing the Sanhedrin in 23:1-6. Then while under arrest he deals with two different Roman governors—Felix, and then later Festus and Herod Agrippa who was the king at that time. These were primarily Jewish audiences he was dealing with. Then he goes to Rome and in Acts 28 a delegation of Jews from the synagogue in Rome come to ask him what he is teaching. So there are different audiences and different approaches and we can learn a lot from that in how we address different things in terms of different people and their background. We get a really clear understanding of the gospel in its most simple expression in Acts 16:31 to its more robust expressions and explanations in other passages.

Who expands the church though? It is the Holy Spirit who is working behind the scenes. We get a picture of this in the last verse of chapter twelve. After Banrnabas and Paul had brought financial aid to the church at Jerusalem who were going through a famine (the spring of 48, fifteen years after the crucifixion): Acts 12:25 NASB "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with {them} John, who was also called Mark." Then what we see in the next chapter is how this expanded in this northern town of Antioch. 

We see through chapter twelve the expansion of the church. It is not technique, it is not methodology; it is content, because it is a spiritual entity. God builds His church, and He doesn't do it man's way, He does it through the teaching of the Word and how the Holy Spirit uses that.