Acts 14 Hard Times (Talk)
This is the gist of my talk which I gave as part of the 9.30 am service last Sunday at Kirkcudbright Parish Church
A number of years ago I and a couple of friends ran a hiking club. Lynn did the tea shop walks as we called them, I did the mid range walks and Bill the more extreme up to around 28 miles. Depending on the walk we used to get anything up to 30 people. It was November and Bill had organised a walk which he had called the Cheviot horse shoe. These are a range of hills in North Northumberland. It took around 8 hours and due to the lack of daylight at that time of year we had to walk it in reverse order. A really steep gruelling couple of hours climbing to start with to get to the first peak, then a few miles going up and down going round the horseshoe and ending up at the Cheviot summit and a relative 3 mile gentle descent back to the car. Well maybe because it was a 6.30am departure from Newcastle or it was a howling gale with sleet but there was only two of us doing the walk. We got to the base of the steep section around 8.30am nominally as it was just getting light but with the horizontal rain come sleet it was hard to tell. It was the toughest climb I think I have ever done. 50 steps up rest and count 25 then 50 steps up and so on for nearly 2 hours. I did eventually get to the top and we did do the round, and got to the summit of the Cheviot just as it was getting dark. Sometimes we have to do hard things to achieve our goals and we do ask why are we doing this. Well I am sure Paul and Barnabas wondered why things were happening to them, as we learnt about in our reading this morning. So lets try and unpack this a bit.
I have divided this into four points and the first I have called.
How do we respond if we are sitting watching TV and someone says it is your turn to go and make the hot drink. Probably not that favourably. In one office where I worked we installed a small program that kept a record of whose is turn it was to go and make the drink. A little reminder came up on the screen which I seem to remember was a hot cup of drink icon.
In Matthew 28 Jesus gives his great Commission V19-20 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” NLT
This message cannot be hidden in Matthew 5 v14 it says about Jesus You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden
And we learnt in Act 13 last week, that Paul & Barnabas were in the church at Antioch when The Holy Spirit told the church that they should go out on a missionary journey to full fill this commission. Having had a mixed reception in Antioch they have to finally flee the city as the mob ran them out of town. They are now in the town of Iconium, which is in modern day Turkey. I don't know if you can make out the map on the screen but Cyprus is the Island on the bottom and Iconium is in the middle
Now what amazes me here is what does not happen:-
A response leads to an action -
When going round a zoo I find it fascinating if they have chameleons – For those of you who don't know them they are lizard-like creature that has a skin capable of changing colour to blend in with its surroundings. If it’s on the ground or rocks it turns a brownish colour, but when it moves over leaves or plants its skins takes a yellow tint. It is possible to take on several different colours at the same time. It has really good camouflage.
As Christians, we shouldn’t follow the chameleons example. We should know what we believe and have standards that we keep whatever other people around us do or think. We mustn’t be different on Monday to what we are on Sunday. When a challenge comes to speak the truth or resist a temptation, it’s so easy to fade into the scenery and be like the crowd - to do what the chameleon does and change the colour of our opinion
In Joshua 24 v15 we read of Moses’ successor, Joshua, telling the Israelites, "Choose you this day whom you will serve" What he was saying is this, "Don’t go with the flow. Be prepared by God’s strength to stand out for the right, even if everyone else goes along with what you know is not God’s standard."
In one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, which was written after the events we are looking at this morning. Paul talks about being an Ambassador for Christ in 2 Corinthians 5 (v20). With modern communications the role of an Ambassador has been largely diminished, but they represent their own country in a foreign land by what they do and say.
In Iconium Paul and Barnabas immediately get into action by preaching at the synagogue. v1 tells us that they preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers.
And amazingly God works wonders and we learn v3 the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders . But again the opposition stirs up the mob, so much so that they have to leave town before they are attacked.
The next town they came to on their journey was Lystra about 25 miles south west of Iconium. Again Paul and Barnabas get into action immediately. It seems as if Lystra did not have a Jewish Synagogue so they could not preach in its vicinity but they were preaching somewhere in the open. Crowds begun to form listening to what they were saying. In v8 we learn
8-10 There was a man in Lystra who couldn’t walk. He sat there, crippled since the day of his birth. He heard Paul talking, and Paul, looking him in the eye, saw that he was ripe for God’s work, ready to believe. So he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Up on your feet!” The man was up in a flash—jumped up and walked around as if he’d been walking all his life. (The message)
Paul prompted by the Holy Spirit acted on the inspiration and healed the man. - How do we act when prompted to do His work?
Actions tend to have consequences -
Lystra was famous for it's temple to Zeus, and Zeus was the patron god of the town. This worship of Zeus provided money for the town, so as soon as the crowd saw the miraculous healing they associated Paul and Barnabas with Zeus. The native people of the city thought that they were being treated to a divine visitation.
We read from v11-13 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they went wild, calling out in their Lyconian dialect, “The gods have come down! These men are gods!” They called Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes” (since Paul did most of the speaking). The priest of the local Zeus shrine got up a parade—bulls and banners and people lined right up to the gates, ready for the ritual of sacrifice.
Evidently there was some form of communication problem here with the locals speaking in their own dialect. Finally it dawns upon Paul and Barnabas what is happening
v14-15 Waving their arms, they interrupted the parade, calling out, “What do you think you’re doing! We’re not gods! We are men just like you, and we’re here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God himself, the living God. We don’t make God; he makes us, and all of this—sky, earth, sea, and everything in them.
Paul and Barnabus continue to try and explain who God is and manage on to halt the parade and sacrifice. The crowd now get angry spurred on by the Jews who have come from Antioch and Iconium. They seem to have completely forgotten about the healed man v19 tells us that The crowd stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.
Are we more concerned about what the neighbours/ work colleagues/ family think? Rather than thinking about what God will think. How does worrying about the consequences stop us from doing Gods work?
This leads us to the End Game
The final section of this chapter is in my view the most remarkable. Firstly in v20 we read But as the believers gathered around Paul, he got up and went back into the town. (NLT) Paul is left for dead by the crowd and is then miraculously healed by God so he can get up and go back into town..
Then even more amazingly they go off to the town of Derbe a further 30 miles away, and start preaching there. I know I would probably say If that’s how we are going to be treated I Can't be bothered to carry on - Oh just let them get on with it. But we learn in v21 that Paul & Barbabus have a really positive experience there making many disciples.
Then Paul and Barnabas do an incredible thing. Instead of catching the boat home and avoiding all the trouble spots they have come through, they go back over the journey they have come from. Going back to the towns that they have had to leave due to opposition.
It says in V22 they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.
In a later letter to Timothy Paul goes on to mention what happened during these events he says in 2 Timothy3 v11-12 You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it. Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.
But then perhaps the most important words in the whole chapter in v27 Paul reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. If that had not been the case then ultimately we would not be here this morning.
So what is this passage saying to us today
Some of you are probably ahead of me and have worked out where I am going, but firstly we need to ask a few simple questions –
Yes there will be consequences – and these can be from inaction as much as action. But God does give us adequate support in providing the Armour of God Ephesians 6 10-13 Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.
According to the old adage, one should not lose sight of the forest for the trees or a modern version from Ken Dickson on Twitter We often miss the big picture because we are too busy looking through a microscope.
Are we too busy worrying about the inconsequential day to day life and miss the important message God has for us.
As the writer of Hebrews put it so well - we need to keep on going to the end of the Race in Hebrews 12 1-2 we read - Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
Ask anyone who does any form of distance sport, running, cycling or swimming there are times when they want to give up but if you do that you will never get to the end. Even though things sometimes seem really difficult, if we persevere we can overcome these difficulties and achieve seemingly impossible goals, with God's help.
If God has been speaking to you through what I have said can I encourage you to share it with someone, if you want to pray with anyone then I am sure any one who is helping with the service would be happy to pray with you.
I will end with Paul's words in Ephesians 3 v16-19
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
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