Today: [Acts 14:] Pressing into the Kingdom: In Acts 14 Barnabas and Paul experience great success in Iconium and Lystra. At Lystra, because of a notable healing, the people attempt to sacrifice to them as though they were gods. At the same time, the persecution was fierce. What can we learn from this? The lesson for Paul and Barnabas was that of pressing into the pressure and breaking out into the kingdom.
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[Act 14:1-18 KJV] 1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. 3 Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use [them] despitefully, and to stone them, 6 They were ware of [it], and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: 7 And there they preached the gospel. 8 And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked: 9 The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, 10 Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked. 11 And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. 12 And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. 14 [Which] when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard [of], they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, 15 And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: 16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. 18 And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.
In chapter 13 of Acts, the ministry of Barnabas and Saul is launched by the prophets and teachers at Antioch. They immediately run into resistance from unbelieving Jews and as a result declare that they are turning the focus of their ministry to the Gentiles. This is a monumental decision but didn’t necessarily mean that they would not preach the gospel to the Jews as they had done previously. In verse 1 of chapter 14 we see them traveling to Iconium to minister again in the synagogue but adding to that effort, preaching the gospel to the Greeks as well. The unbelievers among the Jews didn’t approve of this effort and stirred up the Gentile population against Barnabas and Saul, but the persisted with even greater boldness attended with signs, miracles, and wonders done by their hands. As a result, there is a great division in the city, and the crowd abuses them and the rulers in Iconium plan to have Barnabas and Saul stoned for good measure. This plan is made known to the believers, and they fled to Derbe and Lystra where they continue to preach the gospel. Let us ask the question, should Barnabas and Saul stayed in Iconium where they most likely would have died by stoning? This is a relevant question because over the centuries many believers in challenging situations have refused to withdraw choosing to face the consequences rather than move on to more accepting circumstances. Did Jesus ever speak about this? In Matthew 10 the Lord speaks directly to this issue:
[Mat 10:23 KJV] 23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
Isn’t it cowardice to run from trouble that is stirred up in the name of the gospel? The church has venerated saints who died as martyrs but never revered anyone for running from trouble, yet this is precisely what Jesus tell His disciples to do. The point being is this – there is no shortage of lost people. Why would you stay in an unbelieving environment, resistant to the gospel, immune to the move of the Spirit when there are so many other opportunities to seek those receptive to the same?
Barnabas and Saul preach the gospel in Lystra, and a crippled man is miraculously healed. The man was listening to the preaching of Paul and Paul looks at the man intently and perceives that he has faith to be healed and commands him to stand up on his feet. Notice how this miracle is brought about. Not only did Paul know the he himself had faith, but he sought to determine whether or not the man had faith. Maybe the reason why we see so few miracles is because those coming for prayer don’t have any faith. They hope that they can be healed, but they aren’t sure whether or not it is God’s will for them to be healed. This is because of flawed doctrine regarding the sovereignty of God. The church generally teaches that God can make you a promise, but because He is God He may choose not to honor that promise. This, they say is because God is sovereign and can say “no” to His clear promise if He chooses to. This is an obscene supposition. Does God ever say no to the merits of the cross in your life? If He does, then we cannot be sure we are saved whether we pray the sinner’s prayer or not. If you are going to pray for the sick first determine if you have faith and then make the effort to perceive if the person you are praying for has any faith. In the past, people would come to the altar of healing, and I would ask them “if God heals you will you give up your disability check?” They would answer “no.” Well, remember Jesus always said, “take up your bed and walk…” I would tell them to go sit down because they weren’t ready for what God had for them. Everyone wants to have a miracle, but we don’t take the time to pay attention to how men like Paul and others worked in the miraculous.
After the lame man is healed the people of Lystra are astounded and think that Barnabas and Saul are the gods come down to earth. Before Barnabas and Saul can do anything about it, the people attempt to sacrifice animals to them as though they were Jupiter and Hermes or Mercurious. Barnabas and Paul immediately run in among the people insisting that this not happen because they are only men such as other men. For all their objections it was all they could do to stop this from happening.
John G. Lake, who saw 100,000 medically documented healings in Spokane, Washington penned a message based on this passage called “Spiritual Hunger and the God Men.” We do not want people to think differently about us than they should, but we do want to put forth such a testimony of Christ that they know that those who have turned the world upside down have come to them as well that they might accept the gospel.
[Acts 14:19-28 KJV]
19 And there came thither [certain] Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew [him] out of the city, supposing he had been dead. 20 Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and [to] Iconium, and Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. 24 And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: 26 And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. 27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. 28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.
After the tremendous success at the beginning of their preaching at Lystra, now the unbelieving Jews from Iconium follow Barnabas and Paul to Lystra and so stir up the people that those who wanted to sacrifice to them as gods the day before now stone Paul and drag him out of the city. This is a valuable lesson that we should not take for granted the volatile and capricious favor of men. Those who waved palm fronds to honor Jesus on Palm Sunday cried “crucify him” the very next day. Keep your focus on what the Father tells you to do and don’t be swayed by popularity or the lack of it.
In verse 21 we see that Barnabas and Paul now turn back toward Antioch, retracing their steps to the cities they have visited before. Why would they do this? Verse 22 says that now they are not preaching to unbelievers but meeting with the converts in those cities who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the teaching? They are teaching that to continue in the faith, we must accept the fact that only through much tribulation we will enter the kingdom. What does this mean? Do we have to go through sickness to enter the kingdom? Or poverty? No, that is not what Paul is saying. They have just come through several cities where they had great success but also great resistance. They went to these cities because they were seeking the kingdom and preaching the kingdom. If you are going to seek the kingdom, you will experience pressure. That is what the word tribulation here means “manifold” or different kinds of pressure. People will pressure you. Religious leaders will pressure you.
Family will pressure you. You will fact resistance, but if you refuse to give in to the pressure, you will break out into the kingdom. What is the kingdom? The kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy. It isn’t enjoyable to face pressure, but you cannot turn to the right hand or to the left. You dare not look back because the Father said He has no pleasure in one who looks back, therefore, let us set our face like a flint and teach others likewise because if we do with our faith what Barnabas and Paul have done with their faith in this passage – we will surely see the same result.
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