Being Part of Something Big! – Acts 14:21-28

Most of us are pretty ordinary people by any standard. Most of us probably don’t even know someone who is famous, let alone ARE famous ourselves! But we can be a part of the biggest thing that is going on – and not just in the USA or North America; we can be a part of what God is doing in the world in terms of the building of his Kingdom.

At the beginning of Acts and of our readings and devotionals, you should surely recall (in Acts 1:8) the commission of the witnesses of Christ to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Most of what we have studied so far in Acts has been the outworking of those first three areas, but with the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, truly the final “ends of the earth” portion has been inaugurated.

Today’s reading presents the return loop of these first missionaries, as they largely retrace their route all of the way back to the sending church of Antioch in Syria. Along the way they appoint elders to provide a leadership structure for these new communities. (It is not the focus of this study through Acts to dwell much on church leadership, but note in this passage that there is a plurality of leaders established – not an authority based in any one individual in a large way.)  Prayer is a part of the process in the choosing of these individuals.

We also note again that the issue of suffering for Christ is presented as a natural and normal course of life for those who believe. These hardships are inevitably bound to challenge one’s faith, and so we need to be encouraged to persevere through it, for the reward is great.

Ultimately Paul and Barnabas return to the great church of Antioch to report all that had happened. Wow, that must have been a wonderful experience – to hear story after story of these incredible events! There were accounts of significant numbers of people coming to Christ, including droves of Gentiles through the new moving and work of the Spirit. Imagine the people also hearing about the opposition thrown against the missionaries everywhere – especially of Paul being stoned nearly to death!

We repeat this sort of experience every time we have missionaries whom we support around the world come back to our fellowship to report what God is doing in their corner of the earth. It is a great privilege for us to be participants and partners in such endeavors yielding eternal fruit for the Kingdom of God!  Every Christian should be passionate about missions! This is our church family extended around the world! These folks need our support – in finances and resources certainly (which is a reason why it should be painfully difficult for anyone to leave a local church and withdraw their resources from the support of such endeavors), and through spiritual means of intercession and partnership in communication. And now, in this modern era, it is even possible for us to be involved on the front lines at various times through projects such as our Kazakh team, as one example.

All together, it affords common people like all of us an opportunity to be a part of something so very much larger than who we are in our simple lives in this community.

The Return to Antioch in Syria – Acts 14:21-28

21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. <Note – Luke here is talking about Derbe – mentioned in verse 20>  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed eldersfor them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia,25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

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Preaching is a Very Rough Business! – Acts 14:1-20

Whenever I read today’s passage of several stories on Paul’s first missionary journey, I am reminded of my own travels some years ago to this very same part of the world in modern day Turkey. I was with a small group of American pastors visiting with an EFCA (our denomination) missionary in that land. He was showing us a local shrine dedicated to a particular Islamic holy man who had made many trips in his life to Mecca, or some such story.  This was in a public market area, and looking very touristy I am sure, we attracted a varied crowd of people around us. One man wanted to make a public show and ingratiate himself to us, so he began to play “tour guide” by telling us about the shrine and its significance. However, another man standing nearby took serious issue with the interpretation of the first fellow, and they began to argue in loud voices with fingers shoved in each other’s chests. More and more people began to gather and argue – all of them yelling in Turkish at each other. It turned into a small riot, attracting the attention of nearby police … at which time we sort of quietly went slinking away through the crowds.

In our story today, the Apostle Paul was not ultimately able to quietly slink away, at least not at first!

There are many repeat elements as in the passage yesterday – of Paul and Barnabas using the strategy of going first to the Jews by speaking in the synagogue in Iconium, and then looking for other opportunities to preach to a wider audience. The reactions are also similar, as a range of responses are seen from those who enthusiastically believe to those who are violently opposed. Here the opposition was so fierce as to be life threatening, so they move off to the other (somewhat nearby) cities of Lystra and Derbe (see the map at the bottom).

In Lystra, an accompanying miracle performed by Paul, along with the preaching ministry of both men, caused the crowds to actually draw some wrong conclusions. Though Timothy was from Lystra, this was probably a more Gentile-dominated area. The people concluded that the missionary pair were gods come to earth – thinking the likely older and more distinguished-looking Barnabas was Zeus (the big boss god) and that Paul (the orator) was Hermes. At first, the guys don’t realize what is going on, but finally they begin to understand that the folks are getting ready to make some sacrifices to them!  (I hate when this happens after my sermons!)

But just to show how a preacher’s stock can go from bulls to bears in a short time, the crowd is swayed toward disapproval on the word of naysayers who come from Antioch and Iconium – the previous stops on this road trip. Paul ends up getting stoned, and is dragged out of the city since he is presumed to be dead. I’m not sure how Barnabas escaped the same treatment; I guess his sermons weren’t quite as inflammatory. The old preachers’ joke about this (in the category of why the chicken crossed the road) is to ask, “Why did Paul march back into a city where he was just stoned?” … and the answer has always been, “Because he wasn’t done yet with his sermon!”

We might think, “Wow, that’s rough! I’m glad stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore!”  Well, in fact it does – pretty much daily around the world. In many countries, the Christian faith and the witness of the Gospel of Christ is despised and persecuted. Christians are regularly killed because they believe in Jesus. To see countless stories and gain information on this topic, I’d encourage you to look at the web page for Voice of the Martyrs. Indeed, we can be thankful that such treatment has been historically rare in the USA. But as we have shared throughout this series, it is generally pretty clear that the tide is changing and that a growing hostility toward Christ is growing. These thoughts rightly challenge the depth of our faith and commitment.

In Iconium – Acts 14:1-20 

14 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel.

In Lystra and Derbe

In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked.He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.