An Open Door of Faith.


19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples. Acts 14:19-28 ESV

Popularity is a fickle and fleeting thing. Paul and Barnabas had found themselves the unwilling recipients of the worship of the people of Lystra. After having seen Paul and Barnabas restore a lame man’s ability to walk, the crowds had mistakenly declared them to be gods come to earth. They even tried to offer sacrifices to them. And, even though Paul and Barnabas vehemently denied any claim to deity and tried to point the people to Yahweh, it did no good. But then, a contingent of Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, who stood opposed to the teaching of Paul and Barnabas, convinced the crowd that they had been deceived. They pleaded with the people of Lystra to see Paul and Barnabas as what they were: Fraud. These individuals had traveled a long way, just to keep Paul and Barnabas from doing what God had called them to do. They so opposed the message of these two men that they had plotted to stone them when they had been in Iconium, but Paul and Barnabas had left before they could do it. So, these men had followed them all the way to Lystra and now, they turned the crowds against them. We are not told how long it took them to persuade the people of Lystra that Paul and Barnabas were dangerous heretics and not gods, but they must have been convincing. The very same people who had lauded praise and honor on Paul and Barnabas and tried to lay wreaths at their feet, picked up stones and hurled them at Paul. Luke tells us that their efforts were so thorough that they believed Paul to be dead. And yet, Paul miraculously survived. Luke states that “he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20 ESV). Luke’s description of this entire scene comes across as so matter-of-fact, almost flippant. It begs for more detail. We want to know more. Did God somehow heal all of his wounds? When Luke says that some of the disciples gathered around Paul’s broken body, had they prayed for his healing? Did they lay hands on him? Luke doesn’t elaborate. He simply tells us that Paul stood and and went back to work. He entered the city, and then he and Barnabas went on to Derby. There’s a question that naturally arises out of this story. Why did Stephen have to die as a result of his stoning, while Paul was allowed to live? Neither Luke or God provide us with an answer. But we have seen time and time again, that God always has a reason for what takes place. Obviously, God was not done with Paul. He had more for him to do. And Paul would learn a great deal from this experience. In fact, after having ministered in Derby, Paul and Barnabas would make a return trip through Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, where they gathered all the believers and encouraged them “to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NLT). Paul would become a living example of the trials and tribulations that come with faithful service to God. He would even provide a detailed description of his many sufferings on behalf of Christ.

23 “I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
And Paul would go on to conclude that all of this, the pain, the suffering, beatings, and deprivations, were valuable because they revealed his own weakness. Which is what led him to say, “I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT). And in the very next chapter of that same letter, Paul would clarify his thought even further:
9 “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT
Paul would suffer greatly, but he would also believe strongly. He would find strength in his weaknesses. He would discover the reality that His God was greater than anything he might have to suffer or endure. Paul was not motivated by success or popularity. He didn’t measure his effectiveness by how big the crowds were or how well his message was received. What is really fascinating about this story is that Paul never asks God the “why” question. He doesn’t shake his fist at God and demand an explanation for why he had to be stoned almost to death just for doing what he had been told to do. You don’t hear Paul complaining or whining about his circumstances or wondering why Barnabas escaped without a mark. No, instead, Paul saw his suffering as a privilege. Which is why he could tell the Philippian believers: “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:29 NLT). No doubt, Paul had been told by his fellow apostles about Jesus’ sermon on the mount and had heard the words He spoke that day.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. – Matthew 5:11-12 NLT

And Paul, who would go on to suffer a great many trials and tribulations on behalf of Christ, would become an expert on the topic, providing him with the right and responsibility to instruct other believers about this vital topic.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5 NLT

When Paul told the disciples in Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”, he knew what he was talking about. But what was he teaching? Is he saying a person must undergo suffering before they can become a Christian? Is he teaching that suffering is a necessary part of our salvation? The answer to these questions would be, “No.” Paul believed in salvation based on God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. There was nothing we were required to bring to the table. Our salvation is, completely and entirely, the work of God, But between the point at which we come to faith in Christ and when we stand before Him in heaven, there is that period in which we are required to live out our faith in this world. At the point of our conversion, we become citizens of heaven, but we remain inhabitants of this earth. We have a inheritance reserved for us in heaven, but are required to live as aliens, strangers and sojourners in this land. And Jesus Himself told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).]

Living as a believer in this world is not easy. Paul knew that truth well. And he wanted all those who came to faith in Christ to understand that this world is not our home. We are on loan here by God, with an important task to perform: To share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who find themselves living in darkness. We are to be ambassadors and witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NLT

Our goal is to please Him, not ourselves. Our ambition should be to do His will, not our own. Paul saw clearly that God “had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27 ESV). And he realized that God had chosen to use Barnabas and himself to lead countless Gentiles to that open door. If they had to suffer in the course of doing their part, so be it. If it meant they had to endure some pain and rejection along the way, it was worth it. Paul had a long-term perspective. He was in it for the long-haul and realized that his reward would come in the future, not the present. He didn’t seek or expect accolades and rewards in this life, but in the one to come. He wasn’t surprised by trials and tribulations, but fully expected them. In fact, he actually rejoiced in them. They became proof that his efforts were not in vain. He had the enemy’s full attention. He had smacked the beehive and upset the order of things. And he would gladly do it again.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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