Persecution Is Worth It!
INTRO: As we continued our look at the book of Acts, the last time we left Paul and Barnabas they were shaking the dust from their feet after the Jewish leaders stirred up trouble for them in Antioch in Pisidia. While this was going on Luke informed us that the gospel was being spread all over the country.
Today we move on to Acts 14. This chapter concludes the account of the first missionary journey, detailing the experiences of Paul and Barnabas in Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. We see them revisiting all of the Galatian cities, strengthening the congregations, appointing elders, and preaching at Perga which had been skipped at the beginning. It concludes with an account of their return journey to Syrian Antioch and the report of their labors to the sponsoring congregation.
Paul and Barnabas have left the saints at Antioch very happy and full of the Spirit and moved on to Iconium.
Before we get on with the lesson let me tell you a story.
A schoolteacher injured his back and had to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body.
It fit under his shirt and wasn't noticeable.
On the first day of the term, still with the cast under his shirt, he found himself assigned to some the toughest students in the school.
Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, he opened the window as wide as possible and then busied himself with desk work.
When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he took the desk stapler and stapled the tie to his chest.
As you can imagine, he had no trouble with discipline that school term.
I guess the point of the story is that there are some occupations where you might expect the possibility of trouble and being a schoolteacher is one of them.
I. Since Paul and Barnabas had the occupation of preaching the word of God, you can be sure that trouble isn’t very far away from them. Acts 14:1-3 – “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke, that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” [NKJV]
A. I wonder, when you go traveling, what are the things you check out first. Maybe you check out the accommodations you will use, the local shopping or perhaps the entertainment. How many of us though would check to see if there was a local congregation of the saints who meet in that city first?
1. When an apostle of Christ went into a new city, the first place they would go is to the local synagogue if that city had one. When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium, they immediately went to the synagogue and seized an opportunity to preach.
2. It’s interesting that Luke doesn’t go into details with the exact words that Paul and Barnabas spoke, but he does let us know that the message was powerful enough to move a great multitude.
3. Their words were so powerful they moved many of the people, including both Jews and Gentiles, to the point of obedient belief.
B. It was the extensive Gentile character of the Iconium population which I think resulted in the "signs and wonders" God performed there by the hands of the apostles, thus "confirming the word" was from God. In situations where the population was more completely Jewish, such confirmation through the apostles were not necessary. The Jews already professed to receive the Scriptures as the word of God; but the Gentiles knew little or nothing of the Scriptures; hence the appearance of signs.
C. The opposition mentioned above in Acts 14:2 was perhaps frustrated by the mighty miracles performed by the apostles. At any rate the preaching continued without abatement for some time.
D. I have heard it said that some vainly suppose that if modern Christians only had faith like the apostles, they could perform miracles of healing; but such a view does not take account the purpose for the miracles given in the apostolic age. The miracles in view here were God's way of "bearing witness to the word of His grace," and were in no sense merely for the benefit of the suffering.
E. Again, what we see happening here is the purpose of the miracles being fulfilled. Miracles were designed to confirm the word being preached. Remember Hebrews 2:3-4 – which says; “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” [NKJV] The miracles stood as a testimony of the preachers’ words showing the words were true and from God Himself.
F. As always we find there are people who love nothing better than to cause trouble. Luke tells us there were a bunch of Jews who refused to obey the gospel and they did all they could to poison the thinking of the Gentile citizens, as well as the authorities. Because of the trouble these Jews caused, Paul and Barnabas could do no more where they we at.
II. I think you can usually tell when someone doesn’t like you. Some people just ignore you all together and others will tell it to your face. There are those people who like to spread lies about you, but be assured that there are some people who will cause trouble anyway they can.
A. That’s what’s happening in Iconium. I’ll paraphrase what we read next in Acts 14:4-7 – “The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among the 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 good news.” [para]
1. Luke tells us that the city was divided into two groups—those who obediently believed the preached word and those who demonstrated their lack of belief by refusing to obey. It’s those latter people who conspired to work physical harm on the preachers, even to the point of stoning.
2. I have never been in a situation where people have been after me to kill me. That must be a terrifying ordeal for anyone to experience.
3. I read a story about a man who lived through World War 2. He said; “I had a comparatively easy time of it the war. I did not go through any of the private hells of men on ships in the Navy, of the Marines at Guadalcanal, or of infantrymen everywhere.
a. I saw and felt enough to empathize with those men.
b. I learned one profound lesson: don't panic.
c. Did your car just break down 30 miles from nowhere? You’re on the ground, not at 12,000 feet.
d. You're not in enemy territory. It's only Ohio.
e. Did you loose your job? There will be other jobs. You've known people who've been out of work so long they can't remember what kind of work they're out of.
f. What I got out of World War II and I'm grateful for it, was a crash course in growing up. I suppose over a lifetime I might have learned what I learned during that war. Maybe, but what I and others got from that short span over a half-century ago, was an undying appreciation for the every day, resilience of the human spirit.”
4. My point of telling you his story is that you didn’t have to have been there to learn a lesson from it.
B. The apostle Paul was aware of what it means to be persecuted. That’s why he could write to his young friend Timothy and say in 2 Timothy 3:12 – “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
1. We were not there, but we can learn a lesson from the experience of their persecution. Paul and Barnabas didn’t hang around while these people were out to kill them. They moved on.
2. They moved on and preached the gospel in Lystra and Derbe. Just like they did at Antioch, they shook the dust from their feet with these troublemakers and went to new pastures. As we saw in a previous part of Acts, don’t waste your time in a place you’re not welcome anymore.
III. I understand there are times we think we must spend as much time as possible with some people. Folks, there are times when it’s not just worth the trouble. Creating trouble is a troublemaker’s job description. It seems to be their life goal and what they enjoy doing the most. Proverbs 24:1-2 – “Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their heart devises violence, and their lips talk of troublemaking.”
A. When you come across people like that just do what Paul and Barnabas did—move on. Look with me now at Acts 14:8-10 – “And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother's womb, who had never walked. This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, "Stand up straight on your feet!'' And he leaped and walked.”
B. Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas arrived at Lystra, which was around 18 miles to the east of Iconium. Remember what I said earlier? Usually they would check out the local synagogue when they arrived at a new city but Lystra doesn’t have one. What they did find was something which was very familiar, even to us today—a crippled individual. This man had been crippled since birth and had never walked.
1. It appears he paid close attention to the words of the apostle. Paul recognized that the man fully believed he could be healed through the name of the Jesus which Paul preached. When Paul commanded him to stand on his feet, he leapt up and walked.
2. Notice also that this man was not asked to pay for ‘a healing.’ Unlike the wealthy so called “faith-healers” of today. When Jesus or any of the apostles performed miracles and healed people they did not do it for financial gain.
3. Now let’s consider 1 Timothy 6:3-5 – “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.”
C. As we said Paul and Barnabas had no ulterior motives for healing the man. In Biblical times, miracles always had a worthy motive, and signs were not done for the purpose of personal elaboration.
1. Though Jesus’ miracles established the validity of His claim of being the Son of God, that designation was not assumed out of personal interest. The reason that Jesus and the apostles performed miracles was purely motivated by a love for man’s salvation.
2. As we are about to see, if Paul and Barnabas were after personal gain or praise the perfect opportunity for them was about to arise.
IV. We are now in Acts 14:11-14 – “11. Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!'' 12. And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes. 14. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out”
A. Apparently the people of Lystra were a very superstitious lot and when they saw the lame man walk, they concluded the gods had come to be with them. In their finite wisdom they also decided Barnabas was Zeus, the ‘patron god’ of that area, and Paul was Hermes who was called the ‘god of Eloquence’.
B. You might be wondering why Paul and Barnabas didn’t stop this straight away. I suspect the simple answer to that question is: they didn’t know what was happening straight away, since the people spoke in the language of the Lycaonians.
C. It wasn’t until they saw the priest who served in the temple of Zeus on the road leading to the city gate and bringing oxen with garlands on their heads to be sacrificed, that they realized what was happening. They tore their clothes and ran in among the crowd shouting. Acts 14:15-18 – “15. and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16. "who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17. "Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.'' 18. And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.”
1. This text shows us they weren’t looking for self-praise, but they wanted to share the love of God with them to bring them to salvation. They asked the people why they would do such a thing since they were mere mortals just like they were. They pleaded with the people to turn from their empty worshipping of idols to serve the true God who is the creator of the universe.
2. The true God who had for years, allowed man to ignorantly pursue his own path, even though God always provided mankind with good things, like the rain and the harvest. Luke tells us that the speech was successful in stopping the intended sacrifice.
D. You may have had the experience of hearing people or reading of people that are talking about Christians, and they call us hypocrites. I find that very amusing in a lot of ways, especially when these very same people often deny the existence of God in the first place.
1. They say things like, how can there be a God with all this suffering going on in the world? How can there be a God when my seven-month-old baby died? They are all very quick to question God when bad things are happening. You do not hear these same people saying, thank you God for my life and good health. Thank you, God, for all the food and water you supply every day. Thank you God for the world of beauty and wonder you have provided.
2. Matthew 5:45 – “... for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
3. These same people that call Christians hypocrites refuse to look around them and ask the question where does all this come from.
E. Paul talks about this over in Romans 1:18-25 – “18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19. because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21. because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22. Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23. and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. 24. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25. who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
1. Paul says these people have no excuse for not concluding that there is God. Then Paul tells us people know that there is God, yet all they want to do is be ignorant and create their own personal gods.
2. Ignorance is no excuse and God will not take ignorance into account. Psalm 19:1-4 – “1. The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. 2. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. 3. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. 4. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,”
3. The truth of the matter is these same people do not like to be reminded that there is a God, and they are going to persecute our efforts.
V. Some people are so stubbornly full of hate that they will not stop until the object of their attention is destroyed. These people who have caused Paul and Barnabas a lot of trouble are continually following them around and they won’t stop until Paul is dead. Luke continues in Acts 14:19-20 - “Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.”
A. Luke tells us that these hostile Jews from Antioch and Iconium soon came to Lystra and persuaded the people to stone Paul. They dragged his seemingly lifeless body outside the city, thinking he was dead.
1. What happened next is just incredible. Luke says that the disciples gathered around Paul, perhaps in mourning and the next thing you know Paul’s back up on his feet and what does he do? He walked straight back into the city. He spent the night there and left the next day with Barnabas.
2. I find that incredible because if that were us, I suspect we would be looking for the nearest way out of town. Paul and Barnabas travelled some 60 miles to the east to the city of Derbe, which was on the eastern most edge of Roman Galatia.
3. It seems here at least their message was well received because they won a large number of disciples over for the Lord.
B. So they went on to Derbe but Paul decided he had unfinished business as we are about to read. Acts 14:21-23 – “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'' So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
1. What did they do? They returned to the very cities where they were receiving a lot of persecution. They went back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch for a reason. That reason was to urge the brethren to remain faithful in spite of the persecution which was sure to come and to choose men in each city to serve as elders in the congregation.
2. Obviously, their appointment was intended to help strengthen the church since Paul and Barnabas also prayed and fasted with them while urging them to rely on the Lord in whom they had placed their trust.
3. I noticed it says they prayed with fasting. It is true that there was no formal or ceremonial fast prescribed for Christians, either by the Lord or by any of the apostles, but it is quite evident that fasting was an approved device and that even apostles observed occasions of fasting. There is no reason why devout people in any age should be criticized for following their example.
VI. It is my understanding that when someone is supported in full time evangelism they usually have to write update letters to their supporters. What they do is report about all the work done as a congregation. They keep everyone updated with how the work is going and how the saints at the congregation they are working with are doing.
A. I bring that up to let you know that this is not a new idea. It comes right out of God’s employment handbook for mission workers reports. Luke tells us in Acts 14:24-28 – “24. And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. 27. And when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.”
B. Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps all the way back to Antioch in Syria, where they had first been separated to the work. When they returned there, they got the whole congregation to assemble and related to them all God had accomplished on their journey. Notice two important components about the report.
1. First, they wanted the whole congregation to know what had been done because they were the ones who sent them on this mission trip in the first place. They gave them an honest report of all that had been done and the opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles.
2. The second thing which I believe is highly important—they gave God all the credit. There is none of this ‘look how wonderful I am’, ‘I have done this and I have done that’ and ‘I managed to open this door to share the gospel with someone’. God did it all and so we should give God the credit where credit is due.
C. Paul and Barnabas finished their report and stayed for a good while with the brethren in Antioch. We have a message to take to our friends and family and the people who live in this community and that message is simple.
Let me conclude; If you want to become a Christian, you must be willing to face persecution. Anyone who has ever said, ‘become a Christian and your life will be a bed of roses’ is neglecting to give you the full picture. Just ask Paul and Barnabas and they will tell you that persecution is very real. They would also tell you that the persecution they received was worth it because many more souls came to Christ.
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and be baptized for the remission of our sins... If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
Reference Sermon: Mike GloverPrint
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