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Acts 14:1-28: Missions, Misunderstanding, and Many Tribulations Print E-mail

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The first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas comes to an end in Acts 14.  The Church in Antioch sent them out with prayer and fasting (13:1-3) and they will receive them back to hear of all that God has done (14:27).  The first part of their journey led them to the island of Cyprus, where they preached the gospel to Paulus and Bar-Jesus was blinded.  They made it to Pisidian Antioch and were allowed to preach in the Jewish synagogue, only to later be run out of town by the Jewish leadership.  The journey continues this morning in Iconium.

As we have noted, when we look at these missionary journeys in Acts, we can learn about what we should expect as we continue the mission of taking the gospel to the lost.  Some of what we see in our passage this morning we have seen before and will see again, but it is good for us to read Luke’s account so that we can continue to be prepared.  So then, what further expectations can we have for being on mission for Christ?

People will believe (v. 1, 21-22)

When Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch many Gentiles were saved.  We see the same thing happening in the other cities as well.  Look at verse 1.  Once again, Paul began by going to the synagogue and once again he was allowed to preach the gospel and once again many believed.  Luke notes that both Jews and Gentiles believed in the gospel.  I emphasized this point a couple of weeks ago, but I want to state it again: we should expect the Lord to save as we share the gospel. 

Cynicism is easy.  Despair is tempting.  But we should have hope.  When we share, the Lord saves.  It happened on Cyprus.  It happened in Pisidian Antioch.  It happened in Iconium.  And it happens in Derbe and Lystra.  Look at verses 21-22.  Wherever Paul and Barnabas went and preached, the Lord saved.  What is interesting to note is that even persecution did not prevent belief.  We will return to this point in a moment, but persecution could not prevent the growth of the Church.  Paul preached and men believed.  As we go on mission, as we share with our neighbors and friends and co-workers, we should go expecting the Lord to save.  May we never lose that hope and expectation.

People will misunderstand (v. 8-18)

Due to the persecution that broke out in Iconium (which we will consider in a moment), Paul and Barnabas left that city and went to Lystra.  Luke tells us about what happened there in verses 18-20.  Look at verses 8-10.  There was a man in Lystra who had been crippled from birth and could not walk.  As he listened to Paul, he had faith that he could Paul.  So Paul said to him: ‘Stand upright on your feet.’  And he did.  Luke says: And he sprang up and began walking.  He jumped up and starting walking around.  The story is similar to Peter’s healing of the lame beggar in Jerusalem (3:1-10).  Only in this story the response of the people is different.

How do the people respond to Paul’s healing of this man?  Look at verses 11-13.  The people in Lystra begin to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods.  This may seem strange to us, but it fits well with the background of these people.  They worshipped these gods and there was even a popular story that Zeus and Hermes had visited them before in the form of men.  They had missed it that time but they did not want to miss it again.  They were ready to worship these men as their gods. 

But Paul and Barnabas would not have it.  Look at their response in verses 14.  They tore their garments indicating that they believed the men were speaking blasphemy in calling them gods.  They address them in verses 15-18.  Look at what they say.  Paul does not begin with Jewish history as he did in the synagogue in Antioch.  He was addressing Jews and God-fearers in that setting, but not here.  Rather, he talks with them about creation and nature, things with which they could connect.  They did not know about the Exodus or King David, but they did know about rain and food and gladness.  Paul connects with them just like he did with the Jews and God-fearers in the synagogue.  He just does it in a different way because of their different background, which we will see him do again when he preaches in Athens (see 17:22-31). 

The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins never changes.  We must always tell people that good news and call them to repentance and faith.  Yet, we may use different approaches in making connections with people, as Paul does here.  One of my commentators writes: “We need to learn from Paul’s flexibility.  We have no liberty to edit the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ.  Nor is there ever any need to do so.  But we have to begin where people are, to find a point of contact with them.” 1

People will persecute (v. 2-7, 19-23)

Misunderstanding and unbelief often lead to persecution.  We saw this in Pisidian Antioch and we see it in both Iconium and Lystra.  Look at verse 2.  That is a hard verse.  The language is vivid: the unbelieving Jews…poisoned their minds against the brothers.  They were not content with just not believing.  They spoke out against Paul and Barnabas.  They slandered them and their message.  They poisoned minds.  It is ugly, but it is accurate.  It may leave us longing for justice, but we must simply keep preaching and teaching, which is what we see Paul and Barnabas doing.  Look at verses 3-7.  Paul and Barnabas kept preaching as long as they could and the Lord granted them signs and wonders to commend the message.  But when they learned of the plans to stone them, they decided it was best to move on to other cities.  Difficulty and slander is not a reason to quit the mission.  It is difficult and it may mean that we have to move in different directions, but even so, the mission continues.

After Paul and Barnabas try to correct the misunderstanding in Lystra, Luke tells us that Jews came from Antioch and Iconium to persecute Paul.  It was not enough to just get them out of their city, they pursued them for many miles.  Look at verse 19.  Do you think the gospel is divisive?  Do you understand that Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword?  These Jews went to great lengths to put Paul to death.  Going on mission for Jesus is nothing short of going to war.  It will lead to many tribulations, which is what Paul and Barnabas taught to the new believers.  Look at verses 20-23.  Can you see him teaching these new believers?  I am sure they asked him about being stoned and the persecution he faced.  I can hear him answering them: I bear on my body the marks of Jesus (Galatians 6:17).  And I can hear him say: ‘Be encouraged and be strengthened, but know the truth: it is necessary for us to face many tribulations if we are going to enter the Kingdom of God.’ 

Paul taught these new believers, through his words and example, that suffering is necessary for the Christian.
So why stay on mission?  I mean, if persecution is something we should expect, why should we keep preaching the gospel and witnessing to His resurrection?  I think we see answer in this passage.  Look at verses 24-28.  After Paul and Barnabas finish encouraging the churches that they have planted on this first missionary journey, they make it back to Antioch, the Church that sent them out.  Once there, they gave the Church a report about the trip.  Luke says that they declared all that God had done with them.  They did not necessarily focus on the persecution.  I am sure that they reported it, but their focus was on what God did on the trip.  And what did He do?  Well, we can mention at least three things God did in our passage this morning.

First, God saved men through the preaching of the gospel.  As Paul and Barnabas went from city to city and preached, God saved men.  He saved men on the island of Cyprus.  He saved men in Pisidian Antioch.  He saved men in Iconium and Lystra and Derbe.  Wherever they went, the Lord saved people through the preaching of the gospel.  The reason why we continue the mission today is because God continues to save people through the preaching of the gospel. 

Second, God sent signs and wonders to authenticate the gospel.  Bar-Jesus was blinded when he tried to prevent the preaching of the gospel in Paphos.  In Iconium the Lord granted signs and wonders to bear witness to the gospel.  Look at verse 3.  In Lystra, Paul was able to heal the crippled man and even though the people misunderstood, he was still able to preach to them.  As we proclaim the gospel to those around us, we should ask for signs and wonders to authenticate what we are teaching.  We should pray the same for those whom we support who are seeking to take the gospel to hard places that have never heard of Jesus.

Third, God supplied elders to encourage the Church in the gospel.  Luke notes that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church.  Who was going to keep teaching in these churches?  Who was going to pray for and disciple those who got saved?  Who was going to strengthen them as they faced the many tribulations that Paul spoke of?  The Lord gave elders to lead in these areas.  In Peter’s letter, after writing much about suffering and persecution, he encourages the elders and commands them to shepherd well.  Being on mission for Christ is difficult.  Paul promises that it will involve many tribulations.  But the Lord has given the Church leaders to care for her and support her through difficult days.

Paul and Barnabas labored hard on their first missionary journey.  Some would see all the conflict and suffering as a sure sign that God was not with them.  But they saw it differently.  They knew the Lord had been with them.  They knew that persecution would continue, but that would not keep them from continuing to take the gospel to those who have not heard.  When he got back to Antioch, I picture him crying out through his tears: ‘The work is hard at times.  Persecution is real and painful and promised.  But do not fear, do not shrink back, do not lose heart.  For He is worthy, whatever tribulation we may face, Jesus is worthy.’  Persecution is promised for those on mission for Christ.  But His presence is promised as well.  He will be with us.  He will give us what we need and empower us for ministry.  He may lead us into dark places, but He will never leave us or forsake us.  And as we faithfully proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins, the Lord will save.  People will respond with repentance and faith in Jesus.  So brothers and sisters: do not lose heart.  Keep preaching.  Keep praying.  Keep witnessing to the resurrection.  For the Lord is with us.  Amen.

1 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts TBST (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), p. 232.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 22 August 2014 )

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