Church Planting: (Acts 14:1-28)Related Media
1 The same thing happened in Iconium when Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a large group of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they stayed there for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands. 4 But the population of the city was divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 5 When both the Gentiles and the Jews (together with their rulers) made an attempt to mistreat them and stone them, 6 Paul and Barnabas learned about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding region. 7 There they continued to proclaim the good news. 8 In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, 10 he said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. 11 So when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways, 17 yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even by saying these things, they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them. 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. 20 But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. 21 After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch. 22 They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 When they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported all the things God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 28 So they spent considerable time with the disciples (Acts 14:1-28).1
Steve, one of my fellow elders, asked me if I was going to preach a Resurrection Sunday message today. I told him he would have to “wait and see.” Steve is used to surprises. When I married Steve and his wife, Rebecca, a number of years ago, I did not tell them what my wedding message would be. As they stood before me in the ceremony, I read from the text from which I had chosen to deliver my message. The text was from 1 Corinthians 7, and the verses were these:
32 And I want you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, 34 and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place a limitation on you, but so that without distraction you may give notable and constant service to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
You’re right; I probably should have forewarned them that I was going to use this text and still find in it a message that was appropriate for a wedding ceremony. Fortunately, they survived that message and have enjoyed and modeled a wonderful marriage for those who know them.
For many, Acts 14 could hardly be appropriate for a Resurrection Sunday message – not unless you choose to believe that Paul did actually die in the streets of Lystra, and then miraculously rise from the dead. Unfortunately, I believe Luke makes it clear that Paul did not die, and that he only appeared to be dead – sufficiently so for these novices (who were probably not experts at stoning) to leave him for dead.
How, then, can one find a Resurrection Sunday message in this text? As I said to Steve years ago (and again just this morning), “Wait and see.”
Review of the Context
You will remember that the Holy Spirit designated “Barnabas and Saul” to be set apart for “the work to which He had called them.” The church therefore sent them forth with fasting and prayer, and the laying on of their hands (Acts 13:1-3). This new missionary team traveled first to the island of Cyprus. Luke selected one incident as his focus for this leg of the ministry. At Paphos, a city on the western side of Cyprus, they encountered a Jewish false prophet named Elymas (also called Bar-Jesus) who was a magician (or sorcerer). Elymas had gained status with Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul for that region. Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man who was eager to hear what Barnabas and Saul had to say. Elymas did his best to thwart these efforts and to keep the proconsul from the faith. Filled with the Spirit, Paul took the lead, rebuking Elymas and pronouncing a curse of temporary blindness on this Jewish adversary. When Sergius Paulus witnessed the blindness of Elymas, it underscored the truth of the gospel, and he came to faith.
Paul and his companions then left Cyprus, sailing approximately 175 miles northwest to Perga (in Asia Minor). It was here in Perga that John Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). At this point in his account, Luke does not inform us as to why Mark left them. For some unstated reason, Paul and Barnabas did not remain in Perga to preach the gospel.3 Instead, they passed by (or through) Perga and made their way to Pisidian Antioch, some 100 miles to the north. It was a city located on a plateau, approximately 3,600 feet in elevation. This meant that Paul and his companions had to take a treacherous route through the Taurus Mountains to reach Pisidian Antioch.
On the Sabbath, they went to the synagogue and sat down. When they were invited to give a “word of encouragement,” Paul seized this opportunity to give a very brief overview of Israel’s history, along with the proclamation that Jesus had come as the promised Messiah, whom the people of Jerusalem rejected and put to death. Paul announced that through faith in Jesus, anyone who believed could obtain the forgiveness of sins – something one could not obtain under the law. He also reminded them that the Old Testament prophets had warned of rejecting the offer of salvation, as it would be to their own peril.
Paul was urged to come back the following Sabbath to speak again. Some immediately attached themselves to Paul and Barnabas. On the following Sabbath, it seemed as though the whole city had gathered to hear what Paul had to say. Seeing these crowds, the Jews became jealous and began heckling as Paul began to preach. Citing Isaiah 49:6, Paul announced that he and Barnabas would turn to the Gentiles. This brought great joy to the Gentiles, but it angered his Jewish adversaries. They stirred up the leading women and men of the city, who then drove these missionaries out of their city. Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet, leaving behind a joyful new body of believers.
Multiplication and Division in Iconium
1 The same thing happened in Iconium when Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a large group of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe4 stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they stayed there for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands. 4 But the population of the city was divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 5 When both the Gentiles and the Jews (together with their rulers) made an attempt to mistreat them and stone them, 6 Paul and Barnabas learned about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding region. 7 There they continued to proclaim the good news (Acts 14:1-7).
In Iconium, the preaching of Paul and Barnabas was once again instrumental in the salvation of many people – both Jews and Gentiles. But the gospel had the opposite effect on others, particularly the Jews. Luke tells us that some “refused to believe.” Both the NET Bible and the NIV do a nice job of translating here. The NASB renders this “disbelieved,” while the ESV has, “unbelieving Jews.” The term used here can be rendered either “disbelieved” or “disobeyed.” The NET Bible (and the NIV) nicely combine both elements of the meaning of this term, “refused to believe.” Unbelief is disobedience to the command of the gospel to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. These Jews who “refused to believe” incited the unbelieving Gentiles to oppose the brethren (Acts 14:2).
The term “brethren” in Acts 14:2 does not appear to refer to Paul and Barnabas, but rather to the new believers in Iconium. This helps to explain the “so” or “therefore” at the beginning of verse 3: “So they stayed there for a considerable time. . .” The disobedient unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles against those who had just believed in Jesus as the Messiah. Consequently, Paul and Barnabas stayed on to boldly proclaim the gospel, and (it would seem) by their boldness, they encouraged the new believers.5 During this time, God bore witness with Paul and Barnabas by granting attesting signs and wonders.
As time went on, the entire city was polarized into those for Paul and Barnabas and those against them. In Luke’s words, the whole city was divided – some siding with the Jews, the rest siding with the apostles (verse 4). How familiar this sounds to those who have studied the Gospels. In the Gospels – particularly John’s Gospel – we find the crowds often divided in their response to the teaching and ministry of Jesus:
There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people” (John 7:12).
40 When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ!” But still others said, “No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? 42 Don’t the scriptures say that the Christ is a descendant of David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 43 So there was a division in the crowd because of Jesus. 44 Some of them were wanting to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him (John 7:40-44).
Then some of the Pharisees began to say, “This man is not from God, because he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” Thus there was a division among them (John 9:16).
19 Another sharp division took place among the Jewish people because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, “He is possessed by a demon and has lost his mind! Why do you listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of someone possessed by a demon. A demon cannot cause the blind to see, can it?” (John 10:19-21)
We should not be surprised to hear that the people of Iconium were divided in their response to Paul’s teaching because he spoke of Jesus. Paul is thus identified with Jesus by the divided response of the people. Those who opposed Paul and his teaching formed a coalition against him, one that included unbelieving Gentiles, resistant Jews, and the civil authorities (literally, “their rulers”). This “united front” looks a great deal like the coalition of forces who worked together to arrest and crucify Jesus. When these adversaries sought to stone Paul and Barnabas, they left Iconium and set out for Lystra, where they would continue to preach the gospel.
The Lame Man at Lystra
8 In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, 10 he said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. 11 So when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways, 17 yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even by saying these things, they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them. 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. 20 But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city (Acts 14:8-20a).
Luke once again selects a particular incident, which captures the essence of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in a certain place. This event in Lystra gives us the flavor of the ministry here and elsewhere. In this case, Luke focuses our attention on a lame man, lame from his mother’s womb, who is sitting in the audience while Paul is speaking.
When Paul and Barnabas were in Iconium, there was a synagogue, and that is where they began to preach the gospel. No such synagogue is mentioned in these verses describing their ministry in Lystra. This seems to indicate that there was no synagogue in Lystra. The scene that Luke describes appears to take place on the street or at some public place where the people of Lystra had gathered to hear Paul. Paul is obviously preaching the gospel. I am assuming that he was doing so in the Greek language. This would have been the commercial language of that place, but not the native tongue of these people (see verse 11). As he was preaching, Paul looked out into the crowd and saw a man whose countenance somehow indicated that he had the faith to be “healed.” The word translated “healed” here is the same word that is so often rendered “saved.” The Greek word is used for the saving of one’s physical life (Luke 9:24), for raising a dead daughter to life (Luke 8:50), for the exorcism of a demonized man (Luke 8:36), and for spiritual salvation (Luke 8:12; 19:10). My sense here is that Paul perceived this man had faith – not only the faith to be healed, but also the faith to be saved. Paul riveted his eyes on this man and called out loudly to him to stand up on his feet – something this lame man had never done in his life. Immediately, the lame man leaped to his feet and began to walk.
Surely Luke intends for the reader to make the connection between the healing of this lame man and other miraculous healings of the lame in the Gospels and in Acts. In Luke 5:17-26, we read of the healing of the “man who was lame from his mother’s womb.” In this text, Jesus first assures this man that his sins are forgiven, and then He heals him, linking his spiritual healing with his physical healing (as Paul seems to do in our text as well). In Acts 3:1-10, we read of the man, “lame from his mother’s womb,” who was healed at the hands of Peter and John. John R.W. Stott points out that two expressions found in Acts 3 (“lame from birth,” and “looked directly at him”), are found once again in our text in Acts 14, thus linking the two miracles. 6 We are told that Paul called out the words, “Stand upright on your feet” (verse 10), in a loud voice. Paul was confident that God would heal this man, and thus he made it clear to those who were looking on that this was a miraculous healing.
We must remember that Paul is not speaking to these people in their native tongue, as verse 11 indicates. Thus, it took some time for Paul and Barnabas to understand what the people were doing in response to this great miracle. People were rushing about saying (in their own language), “The gods have come down to us in human form!” (verse 11). They were also calling Barnabas, Zeus (or Jupiter in Latin), and Paul, Hermes (or Mercurius in Latin).
Notice the reversal of Barnabas and Paul here. In their (cultural) way of thinking, the greater “god” was the silent one. The more talkative “god” (Hermes) would have been the spokesman for Zeus. If we think in terms of Moses and Aaron, Moses would have been Zeus and Aaron, his spokesman, would have been Hermes. As usual, Paul is doing most of the talking, while Barnabas tends to remain silent. Thus, they assumed that Barnabas was the greater “god,” while Paul was the lesser “god.”7 Thus, the reversal of “Paul and Barnabas” in our text.
The priest (of Zeus) arrived from the temple of Zeus, just outside the city. He brought with him oxen and garlands, which he was preparing to offer as a sacrifice to Barnabas and Paul. Suddenly, it became clear to these two missionaries that they were being worshipped as though they were gods. They had no desire or intention of receiving the worship of men.8 It was with great difficulty that Paul and Barnabas were finally able to put an end to this heathen ritual of honoring them as “gods.”
One can understand how the people of Lystra could misinterpret the miracle of the healing of the lame man. It is not as easy to understand how these people could so quickly turn from worshipping Barnabas and Paul to wanting to kill them – or is it? Once again, a student of the New Testament will recognize that we have been here before. After the raising of Lazarus, the crowds were eager to receive Jesus. Throngs of people assembled along the road to Jerusalem as Jesus made His triumphal entry (see John 12:12-18). By the end of the week, the crowds were crying out something very different:
13 Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. When I examined him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused him of doing. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, he has done nothing deserving death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” 18 But they all shouted out together, “Take this man away! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate addressed them once again because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept on shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I have found him guilty of no crime deserving death. I will therefore flog him and release him.” 23 But they were insistent, demanding with loud shouts that he be crucified. And their shouts prevailed (Luke 23:13-23).
How could this be? Some would say that those who cried out for the blood of Jesus were a different group from those who welcomed Jesus at the triumphal entry. I don’t think so, any more than I think that those in Lystra who sought to worship Barnabas and Paul were a different group from those who stoned Paul. The explanation for both incidents is much simpler than that. The crowds who welcomed Jesus (and even the disciples of our Lord) had a very different set of expectations than Jesus did. They did not want a Messiah who would suffer and die for the sins of His people. Not even Peter wanted this (see Matthew 16:21-28). Peter was willing to draw his sword and die for a Messiah who would overthrow Rome and immediately establish His kingdom on earth. He was not so ready to associate with a Messiah who would submit to Rome’s authority and die.
When Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, the crowds expected Rome to be overthrown, and the Kingdom of God to be immediately established. By the end of the week, it became very clear that this was not going to happen. Thus, the “Messiah” they welcomed at the triumphal entry was the “Messiah” they rejected before Pilate.
I believe the same thing happened in Lystra. The people of Lystra were interpreting what they had witnessed at the hands of Paul and Barnabas from their own cultural and religious perspective.
“About fifty years previously the Latin poet Ovid had narrated in his Metamorphoses an ancient local legend. The supreme god Jupiter (Zeus to the Greeks) and his son Mercury (Hermes) once visited the hill country of Phrygia, disguised as mortal men. In their incognito they sought hospitality but were rebuffed a thousand times. At last, however, they were offered lodging in a tiny cottage, thatched with straw and reeds from the marsh. Here lived an elderly peasant couple called Philemon and Caucis, who entertained them out of their poverty. Later the gods rewarded them, but destroyed by flood the homes which would not take them in. It is reasonable to suppose both that the Lystran people knew this story about their neighborhood and that, if the gods were to revisit their district, they were anxious not to suffer the same fate as the inhospitable Phrygians. Apart from the literary evidence in Ovid, two inscriptions and a stone altar have been discovered near Lystra, which indicate that Zeus and Hermes were worshipped together as local patron deities.”9
Their actions were perfectly consistent with their religion. The problem is that their religion was wrong, and thus their actions (attempting to worship Barnabas and Paul) were also wrong.
It was not until after Paul spoke to these people (and they understood what he was saying) that they sought to stone him. Notice, too, that it was only Paul who was stoned, and not Barnabas. Paul proclaims the same gospel to these Gentiles that he preached in the Jewish synagogues, but he had to begin at a different place. His Jewish audiences believed in only one God, who created the heavens and the earth. They accepted the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament. They looked for a coming Messiah, who would take establish Him kingdom on earth. All Paul had to do was to show from the Old Testament that Messiah had to be rejected by His own people, put to death, and then rise from the grave. He then told how Jesus perfectly fulfilled these Messianic prophecies.
With this group, Paul had to begin at the beginning – literally. He told them that God created heaven and earth, and all that is in them. He informed them that this God had allowed the nations (non-Jews) to go their own ways, but that even so, He gave them many evidences of His love and care: things like the seasons and the rains and the satisfaction of food and gladness.
This is as far as the message went; at least this is as far as Luke’s report of Paul’s message went. It worked in that it successfully put an end to the peoples’ attempt to worship them (although this was with some difficulty). But Paul’s message went farther than this, although it may have taken a while for it to sink in. Paul was saying that he served the one true God, and that this God was the Creator of all things. His God had allowed men to go their own way for a time, though not without indications of His existence. By inference, this meant that Paul’s God was the only true God, and thus their “gods” were not gods at all. By mentioning that God had, up until now, let the Gentiles go their own way, Paul inferred that this was about to change. Paul had not only convinced these people that they (Paul and Barnabas) were not gods, but that their gods were not gods either. The message was clear: their religion was wrong; Paul and Barnabas had come to present to them the true God and true religion. They would have to forsake their religion if they were to accept Paul’s words.
At this point in time, the unbelieving Jews arrive from Antioch and Iconium. I’m sure that they must have said something like this:
“These men have come to preach a false religion to you. Their religion is also contrary to Judaism, and that is why we have come. Let’s work together to rid this town of their kind of religion, which is dangerous for us all.”
The people really didn’t change that quickly; the facts did. They had misinterpreted the healing of the lame man, basing their conclusions on their own religious expectations. As the Jews expected Messiah to come, these Gentiles expected their gods to return. But when they realized that the gospel Paul and Barnabas had come to preach would overturn their expectations, they chose to kill the messenger rather than to accept the message.
Let me attempt to illustrate this. A number of years ago, I was asked to visit a woman in the hospital who was dying of cancer. This woman had relatives in the Pacific Northwest, and they had shared with friends of ours living there that this woman was dying of cancer in Dallas. My friends called me, and I went to visit the woman in the hospital. I took a young seminary student with me. We both wore suits. When we knocked on the door, the husband welcomed us in enthusiastically. It later became obvious that he did so because he thought we were doctors. Once they learned we were preachers, the conversation was over, and the woman returned to reading her movie magazine. We were welcomed on the basis of a false assumption, but when the facts were evident, our welcome was revoked.
The unbelieving Jews and the Gentile unbelievers in Lystra joined together to rid themselves of Paul, whose preaching was an offense. It is not really surprising to see them working together, for the gospel was equally offensive, though for somewhat different reasons:
22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
They stoned Paul and dragged his body out of the city, assuming that he was dead. There are some who would like to find a miraculous resurrection from the dead here, but Luke’s words hardly leave room for such a conclusion:
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. 20 But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe (Acts 14:19-20).
It was but another example of drawing the wrong conclusion from what they saw. This was a stoning. If you were going to stone someone to death, where would you aim to hit them with your rock? If you were going to kill a snake with a rock, where would you aim? You would aim at the head. We do not know how many hard blows to the head Paul took, but it was certainly enough to render him unconscious. These were not doctors, nor were they even skilled at stoning. They drug his apparently lifeless body out of town and left him for dead. The disciples10 were standing around Paul’s body when he suddenly and unexpectedly rose up and entered the city.
Luke does not tell us that these disciples were praying for Paul’s resurrection. We are not even told that they were seeking to revive him. They were just standing there looking at his apparently lifeless body, perhaps wondering what they would do next. Luke gives us absolutely no reason to assume that a great miracle of resurrection happened here.
There is a miracle, however. The miracle is that when Paul got up, he went right back into the city. Think about this. Paul went right back to the city where he had just been stoned and left for dead. Surely his Jewish enemies were still there and eager to finish the task (of stoning Paul) they had failed to complete. We shall see more about this at the conclusion of this message.
On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. 21 After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch. 22 They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 When they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported all the things God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 28 So they spent considerable time with the disciples (Acts 14:20b-28).
The next day, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe, a lengthy trek from Lystra,11 one not easily made, especially by a man in Paul’s physical condition. It is interesting to note that even though we are not given any details concerning their ministry in Derbe, many disciples were made there (verse 21).
How easy it would have been for Paul and Barnabas to continue traveling to the southeast to Tarsus (Paul’s home city) and then on to Syrian Antioch. You will recall that on Paul’s second missionary journey, this is the route Paul travels – in reverse – to get from Antioch to the churches they had planted on the first missionary journey (see Acts 15:41—16:1). That way they would have avoided all the dangers of returning to those cities where unbelieving Jews wanted to see Paul dead.
Instead, Paul reverses his course and returns to these very places, beginning with Lystra, followed by Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. In these cities, they followed up with the new believers (“disciples,” verse 22). They urged them to persist in the faith, knowing that there would be much opposition and many difficulties ahead:
“We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions” (Acts 14:22).
Paul did not preach a prosperity gospel, nor did he promise an easy path for these new converts. How could he? In the first place, it wasn’t true. In the second place, Paul’s body bore the marks12 of the price he had paid for preaching Christ to these people.
In the past, I have marveled at the fact that Paul could so quickly appoint elders in these new churches. In many churches today, it seems to take years for a new elder to be recognized, and yet here we find elders being appointed in weeks or months. How can this be? I believe the answer has to be found in the synagogues, and particularly in the God-fearers who would be found there – folks like the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, and Apollos. These folks appear to have been “Old Testament saints” who needed only to hear the good news that Jesus is the promised Messiah. The new elders were not newly-converted Gentiles, who had no knowledge of God; they were God-fearers, who saw that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises they had embraced.
In the remaining verses, we read of the conclusion of the first missionary journey. Passing once again through Pisidia and entering the region of Pamphylia, they came to the city of Perga. This is the city where John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). While it does not appear that Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Perga on their first visit, we are specifically told that they had spoken the word in Perga before they went down to Attalia, the port from which they sailed to Antioch (via Seleucia – see Acts 13:4).
Having returned to the church which had sent them out, they reported the things God had done through them, and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. This was a monumental new thing God was doing, the implications of which were only beginning to become clear. They remained at Antioch for some time, spending time with the disciples. I understand this to mean that they spent this time ministering to the new believers at Antioch.
Paul is no “health and wealth” prosperity preacher, like many we see today. Such preachers tell us that if we trust in Jesus and are fully committed to Him (along with sending in a generous donation), God will bless us. They seem to say that we can experience heaven on earth, and thus they assure us of good health, healing (if we have enough faith), and prosperity.
Take a good look at Paul, battered, bloody, stoned until his enemies thought him to be dead. Here is the committed Christian. Later in Acts, we will find him working with his own hands to supply his needs and the needs of others (Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35). In our text, Paul teaches new believers, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions” (Acts 14:22, emphasis mine). Notice that word “must”. He does not make suffering an option, something we can choose for “extra credit” or opt out of if we prefer. Far from it:
Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
Paul himself embraces suffering for the sake of Christ as a privilege:
For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him (Philippians 1:29).
My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death (Philippians 3:10).
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body - for the sake of his body, the church - what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
Indeed, it is Paul’s sufferings for the sake of the gospel which authenticates his ministry, and which sets him apart from the “false apostles” who would lead the saints astray:
12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions. 16 I say again, let no one think that I am a fool. But if you do, then at least accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence I do not say the way the Lord would. Instead it is, as it were, foolishness. 18 Since many are boasting according to human standards, I too will boast. 19 For since you are so wise, you put up with fools gladly. 20 For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face. 21 (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!) But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am talking like I am out of my mind!) I am even more so: with much greater labors, with far more imprisonments, with more severe beatings, facing death many times. 24 Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning.13 Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. 26 I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, 27 in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing. 28 Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not burn with indignation? 30 If I must boast, I will boast about the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is blessed forever, knows I am not lying. 32 In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to arrest me, 33 but I was let down in a rope-basket through a window in the city wall, and escaped his hands (2 Corinthians 11:12-33).
The sufferings of Paul authenticate him and his ministry. But there are other forms of authentication in our text. We see distinct similarities between the healing of the lame man at Lystra and previous healings by our Lord (Luke 5:18-26) and by Peter (Acts 3:1-10; 9:32-35). We see this also in the fact that Paul teaches the same gospel that our Lord taught and that Peter taught, and in the fact that the reaction to this teaching is the same. The work which our Lord began to do, He continues to do through His apostles, like Peter and like Paul.
Now, to the challenge of finding a resurrection message in our text. I believe there is a very dramatic example of the resurrection of our Lord in our text. But first, let me reiterate that Luke leaves no room for us to conclude that Paul died in Lystra and then rose to life again. Luke was not with Paul at this point in his ministry, but he was a doctor.14 Surely Luke would have told us if Paul was dead, but he does not. Indeed, he tells us the opposite. He writes that his adversaries presumed him to be dead.
The miracle is not in Paul’s returning from death to life; the miracle is found in his returning to Lystra, where those who stoned him could be found (or could find Paul). The New Testament provides us with ample proof of the resurrection of our Lord. One such proof is to be found in the way the apostles carried the gospel from place to place, knowing that their adversaries wanted to kill them.
Apart from the Gospels, Paul has written the most lengthy defense of the resurrection of our Lord found in the epistles – 1 Corinthians 15. Beyond this, Paul made much of the resurrection in his preaching:
34 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ 35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ 36 For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 37 but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay (Acts 13:34-37).
But Paul’s belief in the resurrection of Jesus was not just a matter of words. The greatest proof of the resurrection of Jesus from Paul was the way he lived and the way he constantly faced death.
12 As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, “I believed; therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak. 14 We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 1 For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed, after we have put on our heavenly house, we will not be found naked. 4 For we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. 6 Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord - 7 for we live by faith, not by sight. 8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 4:12—5:10).
19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:19-24).
This is Resurrection Sunday, when we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection from the grave. Every Sunday, we celebrate the Lord’s death on our behalf. The death and resurrection of Jesus are at the heart of the gospel. So how can people know our claims to the resurrection are true? I would challenge you to ask yourself what there is about your life that manifests resurrection faith. What evidences are there in your life that Jesus is alive, and that He is coming again? In what ways do you face death in a way so different from unbelievers that the truth of our Lord’s resurrection is evident?
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 20 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 16, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 It was not until their return trip that they preached the gospel in Perga (see Acts 14:25).
4 Or, disobeyed.
5 Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:5-7; 2:1-2.
6 John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), p. 230.
7 I have traveled to India for ministry on several occasions. When we would go to a village, I wanted to look those we would meet in the eye and speak to each of them. I was once informed that in some settings it was assumed that a person of position would not look people in the eye, nor would he speak to them. I found acting aloof and indifferent (as I perceived it) very difficult to do, for in my world, this would have been an insult; but in their world, it was what everyone expected.
8 Unlike Herod in Acts 12:20-23.
9 John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), pp. 230-231.
10 Luke reference to these “disciples” is interesting. This term is not used in Acts for apostles, but rather for those who have recently come to faith through the preaching of the gospel. Luke seems to infer that there were already some new believers in Lystra, so Paul’s preaching may not have been in vain.
11 I have seen estimates from 20 miles to over 60 miles.
12 See Galatians 6:17.
13 Surely this stoning is that which is described in our text in Acts 14. Notice that Paul makes no claim to have died there.
14 Colossians 4:14.
Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)