By Shirley Rutland
Please open your Bibles to Acts chapter 14 and read the scriptures as we study today.
Reading Scripture LITERALLY means in the CONTEXT of WHEN it was written and to WHO it was written to--historically, culturally, grammatically--(Example, what it does NOT mean.) Also--determine if it's descriptive or prescriptive. Today's passage is descriptive.
A. History--Roman Empire, likely AD 45-47. Brought together known world via technology--roads/infrastructure--God's timing at work!
B. Culture--Greek philosophy of "truth-seeking" (Plato's Republic) Concept of "thinking universally" and a transcendent Source of all, juxtaposed with belief in multiple created 'gods.' Judaism--Concept of Jehovah God as that Source with a plan for all humanity through covenant with the Jews.
Paul and Barnabas bring these together with Paul's very Jewish background and Barnabas having come from Cyprus--a Gentile region. Paul used context when he preached!
II. We begin at Iconium (v. 1-7)
Present-day Konya in Turkey: chief city in S part of Roman province of Galatia. Large, wealthy city 120 mi N of the Mediterranean, at foot of Taurus Mts and on route of communication between Ephesus and cities of the West and Tarsus, Antioch, and the Euphrates on the East. Was the last ancient city of Phrygia--legend was it was the first city to rise after the "great flood" that destroyed humanity (Britannica)
-- They had just come from Pisidian Antioch, "shaking the dust off", but "filled with joy and the Holy Spirit." As before, they started at the Jewish synagogue:
Many New Believers--both Jew and Gentile: The Power of the Spirit at Work!
(1 Cor 2:4--My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power...)
Opposition! Oftentimes the result of the effectiveness of the message. (Chuck Smith: It would be naive to think that if God was working mightily through your life that Satan would not try to hinder the work of God. Make sure you aren't the instrument through which Satan brings his offenses) Discernment is key. Paul had it!
-- 'So' (Therefore) they remained, speaking boldly, and taking the extra time for teaching and "fearlessly making known the mystery of the gospel" (Eph 6:19)
Confirmation--by miraculous signs. These signs, occurring throughout the Acts, validated their words. (2 Cor 12:12--The things that mark an apostle-- signs, wonders, and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance.) (Heb 2:3-4-- This salvation... God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.) Again--by the Power of the Spirit! (NOTE: In v. 4-- first referred to as "apostles"--those sent with authority as representatives.) Contrast to today, in some sectors, 'signs' are used to attract people, rather than to confirm what is taught. Again, the need for discernment.
Conspiracy--Gentiles and Jews in opposition to Paul have a "plot afoot" to stone them: Satan at work here.
-- On to Lycaonia, continuing to preach the good news, again being led by the Spirit.
III. Lystra (V. 7-13)
About a day's journey from Iconium (20+ mi) In the region Lycaonia. A military staging post linking Pisidian Antioch with Iconium and Derbe. A diverse population of Roman soldiers, Greeks, Jews, and native Lycaonians. An ag area where corn was grown. Also, the likely home of Timothy and where he first met Paul (Acts 16--mentioned.)
A Different Audience--Paul, with context in mind, takes a different tactic: instead of preaching at a synagogue (this was a pagan Roman colony) he was probably outdoors in a centrally located area.
A Healing--the Spirit at work in Paul, he discerns the lame man's faith to be healed and heals him miraculously (one of 3 lame men healed in Acts--others in Acts 3 & Acts 9) Also demonstrates/validates Paul's authority as on par with Peter's, who also healed a lame man in Acts 3.
A Pagan Misunderstanding--Paul and Barnabas as pagan gods "in human form"--Oh no! (Opposition: Satan at work!) Barnabas as Zeus/Jupiter and Paul as Hermes/Mercury. *See DTS Note*
Paul & Barnabas were understandably horrified and reacted as devout Jews would to blasphemy (v. 14).
Then they preached one of their first messages to the primarily pagan audience (v. 15-18):
--Note how Paul appeals to the cultural context of the pagan Romans: not by preaching the Jewish Messiah, but appealing to the concept of a supreme, transcendent Source over all (Greek philosophy), using the concept of general revelation discernable in Creation: the "One who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 19--the heavens declare the glory of God...)
--God had given no prior direct revelations to the Gentile nations--only the Jews--so Paul appealed to what could be known from the evidence of God's Creation and Provision in the seasons and their crops. He clarifies this in Rom 1:20--For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
*FACTIOD: Early Christians were referred to as "atheists" in some ancient Roman writings*
Paul's Resistance --(Chuck Smith—" more dangerous than persecution is the accepting of praise of men. The temptation was to worship the creature--Paul--rather than the Creator. Don't rationalize, "they so admire me and love me; now I'll bring them to Jesus.")”
--More Persecution (v. 19-20a):Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium persuade the very same crowd to stone Paul! This shows the fickle nature of mob mentality. The disrupters capitalized on it (David Guzik--They weren't content to just kick Paul out of their own region--they followed--some for over 100 miles--just to persecute the apostles!)
Expelled! And left for dead, Paul recovers miraculously! By the Spirit's Power --picture the disciples' gathering around and laying hands on him!
--Some say he was unconscious, at "death's door; " others (Chuck Smith) believe that he actually died. Paul spoke of this experience in 2 Cor 11:25 and may have also in 2 Cor 12:2-5--being "Caught up in the third heaven," meaning into the presence of God--though he says it in third person, commentaries vary.) (He also references it in 2 Tim 3:11--persecutions and sufferings that happened in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra--with the view that Timothy was already familiar with them: he may well have been present.)
Back at it! Due to Spirit-empowering perseverance in the face of persecution--he had the God-given love for the lost pagans and their need for discipleship. NOTE this was a different response to his exits from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium --again, the Spirit doesn't always move in the same, formulaic ways. But the story is not over yet!
IV. A fruitful visit to Derbe (v. 20b-21a);
likely a strengthening and refreshment for Paul and Barnabas! Derbe was about 60 mi E of Lystra--a Roman frontier town and center of commerce and culture. Paul and Barnabas went where the "action" was.
V. BACK! --to Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch (v 21b-23):
DISCIPLESHIP, Strengthening, and Encouragement (Barnabas!) --in the midst of persecution--again, Spirit-empowered as the Lord leads them to return to these difficult areas!
The new believers were taught to expect hardship--Paul and Barnabas could speak from experience! JESUS: (Matt 5:10 ESV--Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) (John 16:33--I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.)
(1 John 4:4b--... the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.)
The laying on of hands and appointments of Elders, or Overseers (v. 23): New converts, but 'mature'; most likely converted Jews from the synagogues who were knowledgeable in Scripture. Paul and Barnabas recognized the need for order, structure, and accountability in the new churches.
-- Elders were prayerfully (with fasting) committed to the Lord: this was not taken lightly! Again, the Spirit of discernment was at work. (1 Tim 3:1-7 for more on Elders)
VI. Return to the Home Church at Antioch (v. 24-28)
--traveling down through Pisidia, and Pamphylia, more preaching at the port city of Perga, setting sail from Attalia back to Antioch (not stopping at Cyprus this time.)
Praise reports! (possibly in various locations in the city) Notice that they didn't focus on the negative (persecution); but rather, joy at what the Lord had done in opening doors and evangelizing the Gentiles:
--proof that what God had done at the original church at Antioch was not unique--that it could spread "to the ends of the earth!" Salvation by faith and not of the Law.
They stayed there "a long time," most likely over a year--a time of building and refreshment before being "called out." The Lord uses these times in our lives--appreciate them!!
Thus concludes the First Missionary Journey--Lasted between 1 and 2 years and covered over 700 miles by land and 500 mi by sea. It had demolished the wall between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14-16) and demonstrated God's grace and peace at work through the Power of the Spirit.
APPLICATION: Perseverance! The Author and Perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2). Paul as our example (Phil 3:12-14--Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus Christ took hold of me. Brothers (or Sisters!) I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.)
We ALL have areas where God calls us to persevere in difficult circumstances. This can also mean persevering in PRAYER.
D. Guzik-- Perseverance in trials: for many a forgotten message today. We consider any kind of tribulation completely counterproductive to Christian living, failing to note the significance of suffering to God's plan.
HOW can we persevere? Not in our own strength, but by the Power of the Spirit--HE is our Helper!
Jas 1:2-5—"Consider it pure joy, my brothers (sisters) whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Jude 20-21—"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life.”
Phil 1:6—"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Phil 2:13—"for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”.
Heb 10:23-25—"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Stage-setting: Godlessness in the Last Days (2 Tim 3.)
IN CLOSING, a word from Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” devotional
"Don't be discouraged or dismayed. Fight on! For God Himself is with
you. Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of
your wounds. Do not fear, you will overcome, for who can defeat
Omnipotence? Fight on, 'Looking to Jesus,' and although the conflict
is long and tough, the victory will be sweet, and the promised reward
will be glorious.
From strength to strength go on.
Wrestle, and fight, and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down,
And win the well-fought day."