Last week in chapter 13 of Acts we began looking at Paul and his first missionary trip with Barnabas and John Mark. These men had been set apart by God to do His holy work. Just as each of us has been set apart to do His holy work! And we learned that this is when Saul is first called Paul as his begins his evangelistic efforts with the Gentiles.
As they stopped in the various cities during their travels, they always began in the synagogue. Remember God-fearers also attended synagogue – so while it might seem as if they were not actually witnessing to the Gentiles they were in fact. The three of them traveled all across the island of Cyprus and then crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Perga. This is where John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem, his home.
From Perga, Paul and Barnabas wind up in Pisidian Antioch and have great success there – initially. So much so, they are asked to return the following Sabbath to preach again. However, while many believed, there was a group of Jews who stirred up trouble and kicked them out of the city. We are told Paul and Barnabas then shook the dust off their feet and left with great joy in their hearts because they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 14 picks up with them arriving in Iconium and as usual they start their evangelistic efforts in the Jewish synagogue. Both Paul and Barnabas are powerful in speech and again many believe – both Jews and Greeks. However, as in Pisidian Antioch, there is a group who refuse to accept the truth about Christ and are bitterly opposed to these two men. You see church family, successful ministry often creates opposition. Satan will absolutely attack when you are on the right track! The last thing he wants is for you to be successful in witnessing for the Lord, in ministering to His people, or in making disciples for the transformation of the world!
While this group stirs up others by poisoning their minds against Paul and Barnabas, their initial attempts to foil the efforts of the two men fails. We know because we are told the apostles remain there for a considerable time. Clearly, they were both highly devoted to Christ, as such, didn’t allow the protestors to stop them in their tracks. They stayed as long as they could because they were concerned about the new Christians in Iconium facing such strong opposition. They wanted to help them gain strength in their newfound faith and to grow in the Lord.
I fear, many of us would allow constant attacks directed toward us, to discourage us. We might even quit – simply walk away. But not so with Paul and Barnabas. They stuck it out. They did not let the obstacles Satan threw in their path to dissuade them from doing what God had called them to do. Rather, they endured – they persevered. They kept at the work of the Kingdom – which was to bear witness to His amazing grace and to touch others with the power and love of Jesus. So they spoke boldly for the Lord and He honored them by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.
Luke tells us of one such miraculous event. In Lystra, the next city they traveled to after leaving Iconium, there was a man who was lame from birth. He was present during one of the speeches given by Paul and listened very carefully to him. Paul must have sensed the faith within this man and perhaps he was nudged by the Holy Spirit to heal him. So Paul simply called out to him to stand up on his feet. The man did as instructed having been completely healed.
Bear in mind however, in order for this miracle to take place, it was necessary for this lame man to make the very important transition from hearing about the work of Jesus, to believing that it was intended for him—personally!! I wonder if we have missed out on any miracles God intended because we did not believe God’s grace and mercy, His love and forgiveness was meant for us. We didn’t have faith the size of a mustard seed. Because church family that is all it takes. Jesus told us so in Matthew 17:20, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Now this miracle performed by Paul for the lame man in itself is wonderful. However, Paul and Barnabas quickly become greatly dismayed as the people who witness this act attribute the miracle to the Gods of Hermos and Zeus – not THE One true God. Paul and Barnabas were so upset they tore their clothes, which for the Jews was a way of expressing great anguish. For Paul and Barnabas, it wasn’t just wrong that they were called gods; it was downright blasphemy.
Rather, the apostles knew that the miraculous work that had just occurred was an act of God! No man, and yes that includes any of the most famous apostles, and certainly Paul was one of them, could perform a miracle in their own human strength. Rather, it was only through the power of the Most High God that this event occurred. And of course, the power displayed was not resident in them at all times, only as God allowed it. The miraculous signs and wonders bore witness to the word of His grace. We have often heard the gospel called a message of grace because divine grace is indeed part of its subject matter.
After this miracle and the apostles’ rush to state the truth, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium search Paul out. You see it wasn’t enough for them to kick Paul and Barnabas out of their own regions, they literally tracked the apostles down and brought the idea of persecution with them. Bear in mind they had traveled more than 100 miles just to make these two apostles miserable. Clearly they were Satan inspired and dedicated adversaries of Paul in particular.
They join with those in the area already against Paul and instigate a stoning. It was obviously an attempt to execute Paul, as most stonings did just that. As you would imagine, they ended in death. They thought they had succeeded as they dragged him out of the city and left him for dead. Clearly Paul was miraculously kept alive in this situation. Some scholars speculate that he was actually killed and raised to life again. That the vision Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 took place during this attack. This is entirely possible, but only conjecture.
To refresh your memory let me read the scripture for you: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know—but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”
It’s also very reasonable to think that during his stoning it brought to mind the stoning of Stephen, and how he had been a part of that execution. And when he later wrote in Galatians 6:17, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” he may have had in mind the scars from this particular incident.
Paul is revived as the disciples gathered around him. Clearly God still had more work for him to complete. As He does for all the believers who are still walking on this planet – no matter your age or level of abilities. He then returns to the same city where he had been stoned. Say what?? Seriously?? He went back? Really? Luke doesn’t tell us why he returns, but he does state that the very next day they left to go to Derbe.
Now okay, I can see possibly sticking to the work of the Lord while being gossiped about, being slandered, and even vicious verbal attacks. But being stoned? And not only being stoned, over the course of his service to the Lord Paul experiences as he shared in 2 Corinthians 11:25, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.”
Now the question you might be asking yourself, is how does one stay true to the Lord under intense persecution? When undergoing severe trials, even torture? Remember, Jesus tells us to expect persecution. In John 15:20 he says, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” And in John 16:33,part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to His disciples and all who would follow Him in the future – including you and me, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In this verse we learn two things: 1st the followers of Jesus will suffer great distress, and 2nd Jesus has already won the victory. He didn’t want his disciples to be under the delusion that their lives would be full of ease and comfort, and He doesn’t want us as to think that either.
He tells us to take heart, but what exactly does that mean? “Take heart” has been translated as “be of good cheer” – really?? How is one happy under horrendous difficulties? But when digging deeper, the word actually means much more – it means to have courage. The root of the Greek word means to exercise bold and confident courage.
I think when Jesus says to take heart, it’s meant to embolden us and strengthen our spirit for the fight ahead – to make the choice to overcome with and through the power of Christ. Remember, the Holy Spirit lives in us, and as Paul tells us later in Acts 17, it’s “In Him that we live and move and have our being.” We simply have to rely on Jesus.
We have to take heart, because if we don’t, we will be overcome with discouragement. We will be overcome with despair. We will give up and we will quit. We won’t exhibit the necessary endurance to finish the race that is set before us. And unfortunately, it’s really easy for that to happen. Especially for those of us who are more prone to depression.
What else does it take to endure – to persevere under such dire circumstances? I think there are several qualities and characteristics – commitment, keeping the Lord the center of our lives, trust, and a loving relationship with the Him.
Regarding commitment the Lord Jesus says in Revelation 3:15, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” My heavens! That is a really strong indictment against partial commitment, or a half-hearted commitment.
Focus – intense focus on God! Remember, Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” Christ needs to be the center of our world! Following Him needs to be the most important aspect of our lives.
Trust. We are told in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” An absolutely critical component to enduring through persecution. Remembering that both God’s plan and His nature are good.
Of course, none of this is even possible without having an intimate, loving relationship with the Lord. Truly as stated in Mark 12:30, we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”Now I don’t know about you but when I think about what all is necessary it can be overwhelming. The good news is church family, once again, we are not left alone to figure this all out. We have the Holy Spirit who resides within us. All we need do is pray with great sincerity and ask the Lord to deepen all of these characteristics within us and especially to deepen our relationship with Him.
Let us pray…..almighty and powerful God please grant us the ability to persevere through trials, challenges, difficulties and Satan’s attacks. Help us to grow ever closer to You. Help us to live our lives in such a way that we shine Your light brightly.
Please be with our country Lord. May Your will be done in this upcoming election. Guide each one of us to vote as You would have us. Help all Christians to fulfill Your will in this election. We pray for the current leaders and those who will be newly elected. Turn our country back to You.
We pray for an ending to this pandemic Father. Bring healing and wholeness to our country and those all around the world facing this virus. May a vaccine be developed that will bring an end to it.
We love You Father — may our lives demonstrate that in all we do. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us…..
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!