February 10, 2019

10 Life and Ministry of Apostle Paul

Preacher:
Passage: Acts 14:1-28

10th of series “Life and Ministry of Paul” – Sunday, February 10, 2019

Gary Miller, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Weatherford, Oklahoma

When people journeyed from place to place during the time of Jesus Christ and during the period of the early church in the 1st century, I think we can safely say there was no such thing as rapid transit. The means of transportation for most was how far they could walk in a certain amount of time, like one day for example. And then when we consider the primitive paths that they had to follow, if there were any paths at all, along with other rugged terrain over which they had to venture, can you imagine the output of energy that would have required a high level of physical fitness and stamina? That certainly would have been a necessity for the apostle Paul as he made long treks over both land and sea to carry the message of the good news of Jesus Christ to people of the Roman world. The total distances he traveled were nothing short of staggering.

His first journey was significantly less in actual miles. It’s recorded for us in the 13th and 14th chapters of the book of Acts. There are several episodes that are in these chapters that tell of his experience along with that of his close coworker whose name was Barnabas. As we work our way through these, and we’re going to focus on chapter 14 this morning, one of the things that I’m particularly interested especially in this series of studies that we been looking at in the life of the apostle Paul, are the insights that we can gain and the lessons that we can learn from the character of his Christian life and the model he left that can be also ours for today.

We know that Acts 13 tells us after being called out by the Spirit in the city of Antioch that he and Barnabas went out, went down to the shorelines of the Mediterranean Sea, and along with an aide by the name of John Mark traveled by sea to the island of Cyprus. And there they ministered from one end of the island to the other for an unknown period of time, probably at least some weeks and maybe even a few months. They then went north or northwest to the southern coast of Asia Minor. It was there that John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem while Paul and Barnabas journeyed on northward inland to a city known as Pisidian Antioch. This is a different Antioch from the one from which they started. And there they were used by God in an incredible ministry. Nearly all the residents of the community turned out at one point to hear the Word of the Lord, and a number of them believed and they received eternal life.

But there they also encountered opposition from a small minority, a Jewish resistance we might call them, who stirred up persecution against them, and it resulted in them being driven out of the city and out of the region.

Their next destination was a city by the name of Iconium, and it was roughly about 100 miles to the southeast of Pisidian Antioch. And that’s where the account of chapter 14 begins that were going to look at this morning.

Now it’s interesting that this word “Iconium” comes from a Greek term that is spelled eikon, at least the English lettering, or it would be pronounced “icon”. And right away you will recognize that term because it’s well-known if you use a computer or a phone today. The word “icon”, the definition of which is an image. You have an icon on your computer. That’s an image. Well, Iconium was a city in which it is believed that there were in Greek mythology legends about images that had sprung up, that it had been made of people in that city.

So let’s see what happens when Paul and Barnabas came to this place beginning at verse 1of chapter 14.

Acts 14:1-7 (New International Version)

1At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2But the Jews who refuse to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4The people of the city were divided: some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and to stone them. 6But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derby and to the surrounding country, 7where they continue to preach the good news.

We’ve already seen in a couple of the previous locations in chapter 13 that when they landed at the first city at Cyprus as well as in the city of Pisidian Antioch, their initial stop was at a Jewish synagogue there. And this is the case here in Iconium as well. This is emerging as kind of a pattern for the apostles as they are going about from place to place. It lets us know that over time there had been Jews who had migrated all the way to these locations and established a community there to the point that they even set up a synagogue, one or more of them in those cities. And that pattern is indicated by the phrase “as usual” because they went to the Jews first and then they also went to Gentiles. Sometimes some of those Gentiles were in attendance in some of those synagogue services.

One of the things that shows up here in this ministry in Iconium is that there was immediate response in a positive way. So effective, so compelling was what they spoke to this audience that it resulted in a great number of people who believed. They either were from the Jewish background or they were from Gentiles, but together they came to trust Christ for salvation. Now of course, there is no question that this was due primarily to the working of the Spirit. The Spirit had been moving in the hearts of these people to prepare them for this moment in which they would come in contact with the true gospel. But I believe also behind this, there was a preparedness on the part of these two servants of God. For one thing they were both deeply devoted to Jesus Christ, as well as grounded in the Word of God. That’s something we saw when we looked at some of the episodes in chapter 13 of the first phases of their ministry in this journey. They were also men who were devoted to prayer, looking to God, trusting Him for the work to do. All of that plus those who heard them had to recognize that these men were really convinced of this message themselves, that this was something that was part of their spiritual DNA, we might say. And it led to their hearts being gripped and persuaded to come to faith in Christ themselves.

We all know that the same impact of the life-changing word of the gospel is still being made in the lives of people today, regardless of the background of individuals or how entrenched they may have been in spiritual darkness and wrongdoing. The message of Jesus, the life of Jesus still cleanses. It still sets people free from sin and guilt. The love of Jesus, the life of Jesus fills their lives with meaning and hope and makes them able to be what God intended them to be. Probably all of us here could be able to testify to how Christ has made that kind of change.

But there also was immediate opposition from certain Jews who rejected the message. There’s something interesting about the term that is used here by the author Luke and that is that when it says they refused to believe, it’s even stronger than that. The idea is that they were unpersuadable. They not only refused to believe the message but they would not give it a chance or even entertain or consider it. And so these Jewish refusers targeted some of the Gentiles who were probably not as perceptive as they should have been, and they created a stir that had a toxic effect on the minds of some of them, probably filled them with, spread some propaganda about Paul and Barnabas. Just how they did that we’re not told here. But they also were successful to the degree that they became enemies. And it wasn’t long that Paul and Barnabas realized what was going on here.

Now I don’t know about you, but if it would have been me, if I would’ve been one of these men, I would have said, “Look, it’s time to check out of here. I need to leave. We don’t need to stay around. It’s time to move on.” Having already been expelled from two other cities – that is from Pisidian Antioch one of the cities previously, this was going to be the second one – they weren’t disposed to just cut and run at the first sign of trouble. Notice that verse 3 says that they hung around and they “spent considerable time there”. That lets us know something of the steadfastness, the tenacity of these men that also we need to have as part of our spiritual faithfulness. It also may indicate that the opposition didn’t get put together just immediately but was gradual, so that at first they didn’t feel too threatened. But in the meantime, they just kept on doing what God had called them to do, what they had been effective to start with and that is to share the gospel of God’s grace with boldness.

Notice here it was also confirmed by accompanying miraculous signs and wonders that they were enabled by God to do. These were the same kinds of signs and wonders that Jesus performed during His ministry not many years before this when He was alive. Furthermore, some of these works were done during the earlier years of the church. Later on, when Paul would write the book of 2nd Corinthians he would make a brief reference to “the things that mark an apostle,” which included “signs” and “wonders” (2 Cor. 12:12). And Paul was one of those apostles. He was one who been designated, he had been especially gifted for this. This wasn’t something that Paul himself could just simply do on his own, conjure up a miracle here or a wonder there, but it was God who was doing that special work. And later on when he would write the letter to the Galatians, which by the way was a region very nearby, or close to where they were ministering here in these cities, he made a passing reference to the mighty works that were performed by the Spirit which were evidence of the message of the gospel that he had preached and that it had been fully approved by God (Galatians 3:4-5).

Well, the longer they continued to speak and to minister in this way, the more decisively did the people begin to take sides – either with Paul and Barnabas or with the Jewish opposers – to the point that a plot of mob violence began to brew that would lead to potentially assaulting Paul and Barnabas and even stoning them. And even though they had displayed a lot of bravery through all of this up to this point, when they got wind of the plot they decided not to be foolhardy but maybe this was the time to actually move on.

And so we find them in the next scene on their way. They’ve been booted now out of two cities back-to-back, but they’re not deterred in serving Christ and proclaiming His gospel.

And this ought to be instructive to us as followers of Jesus today because there will be times in which we too will face some opposition. There will be those who may oppose us and we might even feel backed into a corner. And the question is – Will we endure?

No doubt Paul and Barnabas were disheartened at some of these things. There had been some things that it been said to them and even done to them that hurt. Also they had to be concerned about the state of many of those new Christians that they were leaving behind. And yet they were under Christ’s orders and those orders had not changed. And the many having already come to faith in Christ would let them know that there were other towns where there were people who were still in darkness who also needed the gospel message and the light of Jesus.

And so onward they went, first of all to the next city which was called Derbe, excuse me, Lystra it is. Derbe is to come after that. And in both of those places, it tells us in verse 7, that they continued to preach the good news. Now it’s in Lystra that the action really picks up and becomes quite intense. It gets off to a great start with another miracle which we read about beginning at verse 8.

Acts 14:8-13 (New International Version)

8In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

11When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13The 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.

Now in this case nothing is said about them entering a synagogue. It leads us to wonder if there even was a synagogue there, and if that was not the case then that probably meant that there were only a few Jews in that city, if any. So in this, how this particular setting developed and where it occurred we’re not told. It’s possible that Paul and Barnabas just went out into a public place, maybe outdoors in a market and there they kind of positioned themselves as they made contact with people, talking together with them, trusting the Lord that they would interact with individuals who had already been prepared by the Spirit to hear and to respond. They may have done this not just once but multiple times over a period of several days. As a result, there was a crowd on this occasion that was there because it is referred to in that way in verse 11, which denotes a sizable audience.

But the spotlight quickly zooms in on one particular individual who was paying very close attention to what Paul was saying. What is noteworthy about him was his physical state. He was crippled. The last of the phrase literally is – he was powerless in his feet. And of course, many of the townspeople who had been around for some time would have known about this guy. They had probably seen him numerous times. Those who were his age or more also would have known that he was born this way and as a result he had never walked a step in his life. Now keep in mind who’s recording this – it’s Luke the inspired author. And we also know from another passage that Luke was a doctor. Of course, in those ancient times doctors would have had very limited knowledge in comparison to what we know today. And yet it was Luke who recorded these few details because they were particularly meaningful to him from a medical perspective. What this is trying to say is that this was not going to be some staged or preplanned event or situation, unlike some so-called faith healers in our day who have come into an arena or an auditorium, and they have already beforehand set up situations with certain people and then later on been exposed to be frauds. There was no question that what was about to happen next would be genuine and indisputable.

The sense we get is that while Paul was speaking, either by a message that he had started to give or perhaps he was just conversing as I said a moment ago, this man caught his eye. He was listening intently. Paul could sense that he was being drawn to the truth about Christ. And in some way in which he was led by the Spirit he discerned that this man was exhibiting some degree of faith. Maybe it was his facial expression. Maybe it was just something that seemed to show up in his countenance. Paul would later write in Romans 10 and verse 17 – that faith comes by hearing and hearing from the Word of God. And as this man was hearing the Word of God there began to be developed with him a certain amount of faith, maybe small but faith nonetheless. And so right there on the spot Paul called on the man to stand up. Remember, he had never done that once in his life. The next few seconds must have been astounding to watch. Try to imagine this for moment. The wording of the text shares it here – he did not just kind of struggle to kind of slowly work himself up. Rather he jumped up and then he started walking. We all know that children have to learn to walk. It’s a process. This man walked immediately. The miracle was real. It was authentic.

Well, I think you could probably conclude that at this moment Paul had the undivided attention of everyone who was watching as this now ex-cripple was bouncing around from right in front of them. It would have seemed the perfect opportunity for Paul now to tell of the One who had really done this and how He could perform a miracle in their inner lives. But the tables quickly turned as someone shouted out, “The gods have come down to visit us in human forms!” And others quickly joined in. And within moments as we read, they’re giving Paul and Barnabas these Greek mythological identities. The ruckus further led to plans by the priests of the temple nearby to bring animals to actually sacrifice to what they thought were godlike figures.

Now all of this may have been promoted because there’s a legend that has turned up through archaeology that shows that there was a story once that had circulated about two gods named interestingly Zeus and Hermes who had once visited the area disguised as mortals and they were seeking lodging. And they went to one home after another, many homes in fact, and no one would take them in. All, everyone refused them. Finally, there was this poor elderly couple who welcomed them and served them with what meager means they had. Then these gods had rewarded the couple by transforming their little rustic cottage into a temple and then they made the couple to be guardians over it. The inhospitable homes, however – and here’s the key – had been destroyed. Now evidently word about this little legend would have gotten around to people and hung around for maybe years. And now these people were seeing what happened right in front of them, and they immediately jumped to a conclusion that Paul and Barnabas were these two gods who had come back and they were determined they weren’t going to take any chances and make the same mistake again. That’s very possibly what might have triggered all of this. We can’t say that for sure, but it’s very interesting that there has been a document from archaeology that has shown this.

So how did Paul and Barnabas react to all of this? Verse 14 –

Acts 14:14-18 (New International Version)

14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15"Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17Yet 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." 18Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

Now perhaps it took a little time for Paul and Barnabas to recognize what these people really had in mind, and when they did, how easy and how tempting it would have been for them to have accepted all of this flattery and adulation and let it go to their heads and to their egos and to be welcomed as gods in this city.

You know, popularity can still be a tool used by the enemy to thwart and even ruin opportunities for our Christian witness. But these two would have none of it. In fact, to show how serious they were, they actually ripped their own clothes, which was a dramatic display of responding to sacrilege or blasphemy. We get a sense that they were saying, “In no way are we going to accept any glory that belongs to God and God alone.”

Paul also immediately used this moment as an opportunity to refute the false assumption of the people by letting them know, “Hey look, we have flesh and skin and bones just like what you all have. Look at our hands and our fingers. They’re the same. We’re not gods that have come from some alien planet somewhere.” In fact, he wanted to let them know that they had come not to be God but to tell them the good news about the one true living God.

Now the record that is given here of Paul’s message is quite short. There likely was more to it. If so, this is only a brief sample of what he said. What’s first of all interesting, that unlike what he had shared sometime earlier in Pisidian Antioch, as we saw last time in chapter 13, this time he did not include anything from the Old Testament Scriptures. It lets us know that Paul knew and understood that his audience was made up mostly of pagans, if not all of them, and they had little if any contact with the Scriptures.

He instead does this. First of all, he points out the witness of creation – that behind all that can be seen, the earth and the heavens and everything that’s in it, there is one and only one true God. Nature is not controlled by a collection of deities or idols as many of these people believed, but rather it is sustained and it’s wonderfully harmonized because it has been made by one God and He is the living God.

Furthermore, it is this one living God who has allowed people in all places and nations to go their own ways. In other words, He’s given humanity a free will, people a free will, which by the way is the reason that He has also allowed evil. And yet God will not allow evil to go too far and engulf humanity, as it would do in just a short time if it were not restrained. But despite all the rejection and rebellion against Him, God also, Paul went on to say, has shown evidence of His providential power and love by giving to all many benefits that are needed for humanity to exist and to be sustained. He mentions rain, crops, food, and even gladness and joy throughout various moments of life. These are the things that God has given to all people.

Now we’re not given anything more about what Paul may have said. Based upon what we already saw back in verse 7, that when they came to these two cities of Lystra and Derbe they preached the good news, we might be led to believe that he continued on from what we have recorded here to declare the truth of the gospel of Jesus to them, with the hope that at least some of them hearing this message might turn to this living God that he was pointing them to and turn away from these worthless things that he made reference to, that they had become absorbed with. Yet even after saying all of this, there were still some who were intent on recognizing them as gods and sacrificing to them. Those desires would only be short-lived as in a matter of only a brief time there were other forces that they would face that we read about in verse 19, “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium” – those were the two cities, remember, that Paul and Barnabas had been to previously – they followed them and they won the crowd over and they “stoned Paul and” they “dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.” That it was Jews who came into Lystra might indicate that there were a few fellow Jews who lived there, maybe not many but a few, which might explain how these outsiders were able to incite people against Paul and Barnabas, which would not have been as easy if they had come in as complete strangers with no points of contact.

What is especially noteworthy – and I want you to get this – just a short time before, both Paul and Barnabas were being acclaimed as immortals, yet not long after they have become the targets of a violent assault, and at least that’s what happened to Paul. Nothing is mentioned about what happened with Barnabas in this episode, if he too was the victim of this mob.

The scene then takes us outside of the city. And we can’t help but wonder in those moments when Paul was feeling the sharp hard edges of those rocks that were being flung at his body, if his mind flashed back to a day some 12 to 15 years earlier in which he was standing there watching as individuals threw rocks at Stephen who became the first martyr of the church as recorded in Acts chapter 7. Some years later as Paul was summing up what he had endured for the sake of the gospel, he included in 2nd Corinthians chapter 11, verse 25, that he had once been stoned. This would have been that occasion.

One unsettled matter has always been – Was Paul actually dead or was he just about dead, just barely a glimmer of life in him? – since it says this mob thought he was dead. I’m not sure we can ever come to a complete and satisfactory answer. Whatever it was, he was certainly in bad shape.

And then we read in verse 20, “After the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.” Now who these disciples were and where they came from, we have no idea. Probably they were from among those who had come to faith and belief in Christ as a result of the message that Paul had given after the healing of the lame man. But here they are around – we can imagine them huddled around Paul’s body as it is lying there on the ground, probably in mourning, maybe some of them praying, “Oh, God, we’ve lost such a great leader.” And then they looked down and they saw a slight movement in his body. And all of a sudden Paul sprang up to life. And he looked at them and he said, “Cancel the funeral plans for today! There will be no burial!” And what does Paul do next? Now get this – he goes right back into Lystra, the very opposite of probably what any of us would have done. Now he wasn’t there long because we are told in the very next statement, “The next day he and Barnabas left for Derby” (Acts 14:20b). “They preached the good news in that city.” They “won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium in Antioch, 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. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they put their trust.” (Acts 14:21-13)

Derbe, now, was the next city about 60 miles to the east-southeast of Lystra. No particular incidents are mentioned in this text – only that there was a positive response to their message. A large number of disciples were won because of their proclaiming the good news, which indicates that they may have been there for some period of time. Among those likely was one who would later become a traveling companion of Paul on his later journey, because in Acts 20 and verse 4 it speaks about Gaius who was from Derbe. It’s noteworthy that when Paul was writing to his spiritual son Timothy in 2nd Timothy chapter 3, verses 10 through 12 and speaks about the “persecutions” and the “sufferings” he “endured”, “what kinds of things that happened to” him “in Antioch” and “Iconium and Lystra”, of the persecutions that he endured he did not mention Derbe, which maybe leads us to believe that he was able to escape persecution there. And yet he would go on to say to Timothy – those who want “to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will” suffer persecution. It will happen one way or another.

But there’s something else I want you to notice here that is interesting. At Derbe Paul would have been not much more than about 100 miles from his home town of Tarsus. He would have only been about 200 miles away from Antioch from where they began. But instead of taking that shorter direct route east, which would have put them back within, say, two or three weeks or maybe less, Paul’s concern for those new believers where they had been had compelled him to go back and retrace his steps. And instead they ended up traveling 700 and or more miles by land and sea to return back to Antioch. Keep in mind that only a short time earlier they had received harsh treatment in some of those places. But it was of utmost importance for them to go back and to strengthen these disciples in their new faith, to encourage them to be true to the Lord.

The closing verses of this chapter give a brief synopsis of the final leg of the journey.

“After going through Pisidia” – that’s the region of this area – “they came to Pamphylia” – that was along the coast – and there they “preached the word in Perga” – that’s where they had landed earlier when they came from Cyprus. And then they went to Atalia, and if you look at these you can see how these are located on the map, starting first of all, where they had been in Derbe, Iconium, Antioch, Perga, and Atalia. And it’s from there they boarded and ended up the going all the way “back to Antioch” from where they had started. “On arriving there, they gathered the church together and they reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:26-28)

Now this probably took some weeks for them to make this return visit, maybe even a few months. It’s been estimated that from the time that they first left Antioch to when they returned covered at least two if not closer to three years. Altogether when you add up both the journey to and then the journey back, it would have totaled at least 1400 miles by sea or by land.

But notice in verse 27 that when they testified about their journeys, they didn’t say, “Look what we, we want to tell you what we have done while we’ve been gone.” No, it was what “God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith.” That’s a mouthful for us today. When we think about things that have happened in our lives, ways in which God has used us, it’s not us – it’s what He has done. And what an exciting time it must have been for people who welcomed them to hear the amazing stories of the hundreds, perhaps even thousands who had come to Christ through the ministry of these faithful servants of God. It really comes through that Paul all the while was wanting to give credit to God for all of His divine enablement, which would be the course for his life and ministry, as it should be for ours.

As he would write to the Ephesians in chapter 3 (vs. 20-21) of that letter, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen!

Let’s pray that right now as we close.

Father in heaven, we thank You that You have given to the church not only in that first century era but also its continuing influence for twenty centuries after this man whom You called and You chose and You used. Thank You that his life serves as a model for us, that it was patterned after the life of Your Son, Jesus. We know, Lord, that Paul was not a perfect man – he would be the first to admit that. And yet he was a man who was sold out for You, who was committed to You, to Your Son, Jesus, to your holy Word. We pray that those same kind of passions might be infused within us as we look these weeks at the many different experiences of his life that are recorded for us in these passages of the New Testament. May we be emboldened to be servants of Yours to show and reflect the light of Christ to people in darkness around us. And we pray that it will be all for Your honor and for Your glory. In the precious and wonderful name of Jesus, we ask these things. Amen.

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