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Acts 14

April 11th, 2010 by Vic

Acts 14


April 11, 2010

Paul was stoned and left for dead once in his life.  Being stoned today in our culture has a different meaning.  As we read this chapter in Paul’s life, we get some basic facts about trust and Christian life style.  The writer may expect us to walk in Paul’s shoes and feel his courage, his emotions, and his trust in God.  It is written for those who have ears to hear.

14:1-5 Teaching in Iconium

Paul and Barnabas had been persecuted, threatened, and told to leave Antioch by the city leaders.  If you were doing good things and then were strongly told to leave the city because some pious religious people were slandering you, what would you be feeling?  Self-proclaimed godly people were using accusations, false rumors and gossip to poison the minds of the people. Yet for the disciples there was joy (13:52).  How can this be?  Why didn’t they defend themselves?  Why didn’t they stand up for their rights?

Rather than playing it safe and retreating to a city with a strong Roman presence where Paul could claim his Roman citizenship and find some protection, he and Barnabas walk 90 miles farther into the frontier.

When they arrive in Iconium they again find a synagogue and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Their teaching was very effective.

Notice that belief is a choice (14:2).  Some Jews chose not to believe what Paul was teaching about the Scripture.  They could not refute the facts of his teaching so they attacked his character.  Rather than just agreeing to disagree, they wanted to discredit Paul so they looked good.  They wanted everyone to agree with them and be on their side.  There is no indication that they could argue with the facts that Paul was teaching so they tried to slander the teacher.  Isn’t that how we criticize politicians?  We don’t have all the facts.  We have not read the health care bill.  So we judge the bill by the character or the party of the congressmen.

Paul and Barnabas did not ask anyone to take sides.  Remember in Paul’s sermon last week he did not even have an altar call.  If there are sides to choose, God made it plain that He is on Paul’s side (14:3).  Paul and Barnabas just kept speaking for the Lord and the Lord enabled them to do miraculous signs to confirm their words.

The official response to their message was mixed.  There was a plot brewing to mistreat them and stone them.  To be stoned was to be executed.  This is a serious terrorist plot brewing.

Note these terrorists would claim to believe in God.  This was a holy war.  Their religion was the only true religion.  Their God could not defend himself so they had to take up the sword for him?  In the Christian church it is professed believers who often cause divisions.  When Christians fail to act like Christ, there is division.  Their divisive spirit separates them farther and farther from God and other Christians.

14:6-20  Teaching in Lystra

Warned of the plot to kill them, Paul and Barnabas fled to the Lycaonian area around Lystra and Derbe.  Apparently there were no synagogues in the cities so for a while they preached in the countryside.  They were mobile enough so their critics did not find them until the whole city was encouraged to worship them.

The opposition in Iconium has brought the gospel to Lystra.  Opposition can help and hinder the gospel.  We can give thinks in everything.  Sometimes God leads us out of bad situations and sometimes God gives us strength to go through difficult times and the fiery furnace.  God walks with us and helps us to stand firm and endure while the ropes are burning off our wrists.

Paul and Barnabas did not go to the area of Lystra to escape persecution but to preach the gospel.  They just kept preaching the good news to all who would listen.  Those who refused to believe did not want anyone else to believe either.

This crippled man is not begging or asking for alms.  In the non-Jewish world giving to the poor was not encouraged by the gods.  This man was resigned to his situation.  Like the cripple at the Temple gate that Peter healed, this man had no hope of being healed.  But he had listened to the good news of Paul’s preaching and something in his heart had changed.  Paul looked at him and saw that he had Jesus in his heart and the faith to be healed.  The heart of this man could be seen in his eyes.  Paul commanded him to stand up and he jumped up and began walking.  Remember he had never walked before.  Not only did his muscles have instant strength, they had instant coordination.  He did not start with a walker or need a cane or crutches.  God again confirmed the teaching of Paul.

Now the story gets interesting.  50 years before this time a Greek poet wrote a story about 2 gods who had come to Lystra a long time ago.  They had looked for a place to stay and no one gave them hospitality except 2 old peasants.  Because they were kind to the gods they became guardians of this temple and were made trees.  The rest of the population was wiped out in a flood.

The people saw this crippled man healed and thought the gods had come in human form again.  They were determined they were not going to ignore the gods like their ancestors had done.  They shouted out to everyone in their own language that the gods were here again.  Even the Zeus/Jupiter temple priest brought sacrifices to give to Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas did not understand their language (11).  They did not know what was going on.  They did not understand this culture.  They were probably noticing that the people’s excitement was not about the gospel.  Then someone explained what was going on in the Greek language so they understood.

Horror of horrors (14).  This was blasphemy.  We can’t take the glory that belongs to God.  Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes.  Probably they ripped their neckline so their garment fell off their shoulder.  The people were beginning to worship them like gods and they were horrified that they had been misunderstood.

What would you do?  Do you believe what people tell you?  When people praise you, do you turn the praise to God or do you soak it up?  Don’t believe your press clippings.  Remember it’s all because of God’s amazing grace.

Paul preaches a short sermon to Gentiles who had no knowledge of the God of the Jews.  It was probably not smart to offend the priest who was trying to honor him, but Paul wanted it clear that God was alive and had healed this man.

1. There is no hierarchy in the kingdom of God.  We are all humans.  We are all children of the true God.  I’m human just like you.

2. This fear of the gods and giving gods a sacrifice is worthless.  Idolatry is futile.  I bring you good news.  The gods are not just imperfect men.  There is a God who has given the ultimate sacrifice for us.

3. The true God is the living God who just healed this man.

4. The true God is the Creator of everything you see.

5.  He has been showing His kindness by giving you rain and food and a glad heart.  Now He has forgiven your sins.

God does not force us to love Him.  That would be rape.  He gave us a free will so we could give thanks for the blessings we receive.

In the area of Lycaonia, rain was often scarce.  Jupiter was thought to be lord of the air.  He dispensed the thunder and lightning, the rain and the rainbow while seated on the throne.  Barnabas was identified with Zeus/Jupiter because he was more dignified.

Mercury was the god of merchandise, the messenger, and dispenser of food.  Paul was identified with Mercury because he was the smaller and seemed to be the spokesman.

Paul is boldly calling the worship of Jupiter and Mercury worthless.  That’s not good PR.

Some Jews heard that Paul had appeared in Lystra (19) so they went and convinced the crowds that Paul was not a god, but an imposter.  He was a wicked sorcerer.  The crowds killed Paul by stoning.  They dragged him out of the city.  They thought they had cleaned the city of this false magi/sorcerer.

After the mob left Paul, the disciples gathered around him to weep and decide what to do next.  There is no indication that they prayed for Paul.  They were not trying to heal him.  They were not bandaging his wounds.  They were just standing around.  What kind of “if onlys” were they discussing?

Paul later writes that he went to heaven for a short time.  This is probably that time.  Then he got up and went back into the city.  What were the people of Lystra thinking now?  Who was this Paul?  Who was this God of Paul?  What were the people thinking now?  He says he is not a god, but he has healed himself.  It seems that the Jews quit pursuing him.  What were Paul’s friends thinking?

The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.  I wonder if he was bruised.

14:21-28 The return visits

They preached the good news in Derbe for a while.  Many believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  They became disciples.  Apparently they did not need any signs and wonders to confirm the Word.

It had been well over a year since Paul and Barnabas had left the home church.  They were concerned about all the new Christians and they also wanted to return to their home church and share what the Lord has been doing.  Instead of going 160 miles farther east to Tarsus, Paul’s hometown, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.  Was this careless or courageous?  He goes back to the towns of the people who had killed him.  He was more concerned about others than himself.

Paul did not tell the new believers that the Christian life would be a bed of roses.  Jesus had come not to make life easy, but to make men great.  Why are we surprised when bad things happen to good people?  Jesus promised Christians that they would suffer.  He also promised that he would go through the fiery furnace with us so we can rejoice in tribulation.

As they visited the believers they identified those who were looked up to as leaders and appointed them as elders (23) in each church.  This word elder is the Greek word ‘presbuteros’ and it is synonymous with the word ‘episcopos’ which means overseer.  It refers to function more than a positional title.  Paul appointed more than one elder in each church.  Most synagogues had several elders so this organization was a familiar pattern for the Jews.

After identifying and appointing the elders they gathered each church together for an ordination service.  With prayer and fasting they committed these elders to the Lord because only the Lord could protect them from severe persecution.  They were totally aware that they had to trust the Lord for the safety of their elders.  They knew that terrorists could kill them at any time.  Many elders have had it too easy and have fallen into immorality because they did not realize the seriousness of their appointment and their churches have neglected to pray and fast for their safety.

On this return visit they preach the gospel in Perga (25) which they did not do the first time because Paul was very sick.  From Perga they went to the port city of Attalia and sailed directly back to Antioch without revisiting Cyprus.

It had been 2-3 years since the home church had committed Paul and Barnabas to the grace of God that had given them a heart for missions.  There may have been several churches in Antioch and they all gathered together for the first missionary meeting.  Paul and Barnabas tell them what God has done and what God is doing.

It is a mistake for missionaries to report on their stonings or the miracles they have done.  It is always appropriate to praise God and see your life from God’s perspective.

Paul and Barnabas returned to their ministry of teaching in the church at Antioch.  They did not start another church.  They did not set up a seminary to train missionaries.  They continued to be part of the team.  Paul probably wrote the book of Galatians during this time.

What did this chapter tell you about God?

How are you like Paul and Barnabas?  If you were walking in Paul’s shoes, what would you be thinking about?

How close are you living to the threshold of heaven?  Are your eyes fixed on Jesus?

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