Trouble is beginning to follow Paul and Barnabas as they go throughout the Roman Empire preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul and Barnabas had been preaching in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13). There they received a favorable response and were asked to stay another Sabbath to speak more about these things. However, the Jews incited the leaders of the city, stirred up a persecution, and expelled Paul and Barnabas from Antioch.
I. The Work of Paul and Barnabas
A. Reaction at Iconium (14:1-7)
- Unfortunately, the same thing happens in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas enter the synagogue and a great number of Jews and Greeks believe. But the Jews refuse to believe the teachings of Paul and Barnabas and stir up the Gentiles against them. But rather than leave because of the turning of the hearts, Paul and Barnabas become more determined and stay there for some time. The Lord enables Paul and Barnabas to perform signs and wonders.
- The people in the city of Iconium are divided, some of them siding with the unbelieving Jews and some siding with the apostles. But then an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, along with the rulers, to assault and stone Paul and Barnabas, they flee to towns of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding countryside.
B. Reaction at Lystra and Derbe (14:8-21)
- As Paul and Barnabas come into Lystra, they encounter a man crippled in his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. Since Paul would usually go into the synagogues and teach, as he did in Antioch and Iconium, we have the reason to think there was not a synagogue there because there were not many Jews who lived in the city.
- The lame man from birth hears Paul speaking. Paul looks intently at the lame man and says in a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." The man sprang up and began to walk. Once the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted "The gods have come down to us in human form!" The people called Barnabas, Zeus, and they called Paul, Hermes. Zeus was chief of the gods and Hermes was the son of Zeus who was the spokesperson for the gods. Apparently there was a myth in that region that Zeus and Hermes had previously visited the region in human form. However, only an old couple offered them hospitality. The people’s reaction to Paul and Barnabas may possibly somewhat explained by this legend.
- Since the crowds are speaking these words in the Lycaonian language, it seems that Paul and Barnabas do not immediately recognize what the people are saying. But when the priest from the temple to Zeus comes and he and crowd want to offer sacrifices to them, Paul and Barnabas understand what is going on and tear their clothes. The tearing of clothes was a Jewish way of expressing deep emotional turmoil but this practice was not unknown in the Greco-Roman world.
- Barnabas and Paul rush out into the crowd and begin shouting to them an important lesson. Paul emphasizes that they have come to bring the gospel about God and for them to turn away from these worthless things. Paul, in an effort to prove a living God, makes an argument from nature. The Romans and Greeks worshipped a myriad of gods. Paul declares that they need to turn to the living God, the Creator of all things. This brings about a subtle implication that the gods they are worshipping and maintain a temple for are really dead. They are the imaginations of man.
- But even with these words, the crowd can hardly be kept from offering sacrifices to them. Unfortunately, the Jews from Antioch and Iconium come to Lystra and win the hearts of the people. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, believing he was dead. This is a terrible scene as Paul is assumed to be dead. We know they knew how to take a pulse. We have every reason to believe Paul was dead when he was dragged out of the city or, at best, was going to die due to his injuries.
- Stoning is no small thing. We must see God’s intervention for Paul to be able to get up from a stoning and go back into the city. I don’t know that I would have gone back into the city that had just rejected me. But the disciples encircle him and they go back into Lystra for the night. We need to see Paul bloody and injured from the stoning and dirty from being dragged out of the city. Left for dead, the disciples of the city whom Paul and Barnabas have converted come to see if Paul is alive.
- The next day Paul and Barnabas go on to Derbe. They proclaim the good news to the city and make many disciples of Jesus. Since we are not given much information, we must assume that the Jews did not follow the apostles the approximate 40 miles to Derbe.
C. Return trip (14:22-28)
- After success in Derbe, they return through the cities where they had been to strengthen the new disciples. If I were Paul, I think I would have suggested we skip Lystra. Still feeling the soreness and pain of the stoning, I would not want to come through there again. But the welfare of the disciples in the city was more important than his own physical welfare.
- As they went through the cities, they encouraged the disciples to continue in the faith, saying, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." Paul would have a very recent story to relate the disciples about all he had been enduring from the Jews. To see the faith of Paul and Barnabas in the midst of these persecutions would have been encouraging to the disciples. "If Paul can enduring being stoned to death, I can endure the hardships I must face for the cause of Christ."
- We also learn that the apostles appointed elders in each church as they went back through encouraging the saints. This is an important sentence in which we see that more than one person was appointed as an elder over a congregation. One person is not in charge of a whole church. We also see that the elders were over each church and were not over other churches. We do not see archbishops or cardinals in charge over many churches. Each church had its own leadership of at least two qualified men. Paul and Barnabas, after visiting these churches, return to Antioch and relay to the disciples all that had happened and how the Gentiles were receiving the good news of Jesus Christ.
II. Applications For Today
A. Swayed by the majority?
- We see a common problem as Paul and Barnabas were going through the regions preaching. The people would initially respond favorably to the gospel that Paul and Barnabas preached. But then the Jews would come in, sway the hearts of the people, against the apostles, and drive them out of the city.
- Human nature has something built within it that wants to be part of the majority. We have a "herd mentality" in which we want to go along with others. If the majority is against us, then this is usually enough for us to change our minds. The question often is: what does everyone else think? This is a frustrating problem in our government today. Our representatives do not do what is right or what is best. Rather, they take a poll to see what is favorable with the people.
- God can certainly fall into the same problem. We can choose to reject God because all of our family and all of our friends reject God. We can choose to follow God because all of our family and all of friends accept God. But we are not to be mindless followers. In fact, we see Paul reasoning with arguments as to why they ought to obey the gospel. No appeal is ever made to do because everyone else is doing it.
- It is disappointing to see how many people are influenced by others to such a degree in their lives that they will ignore logic and reason simply to be in the majority. I have a great appreciation for Christians who have had to stand in the minority with their families and their friends. They are not willing to cave in to the pressure of following the crowd.
- Illustration: shopping lines; illustration: the pope ceremonies.
B. We must go through troubles to serve God
- Paul does not go to the new Christians in these cities and tell them that serving God will be easy. He could not, since he had been stoned and left for dead in an effort to teach the message of God.
- We must go through troubles in life. Satan is going to fight against us when we decide to serve the Lord. It happens nearly every time that I can think when someone because a follower of Jesus. Immediately, a tough decision is placed in front of them regarding their work, their family, or some other choice to fall back into the lifestyle of sin. To think that Christianity is easy is to not recognize that we are accepting a spiritual struggle against sin and Satan. The changing and reforming of our character to become like the character of God is not easy. We have challenges to face simply becoming what God wants us to be.
- But we must also prepare ourselves that we will experience hardships that will test our faith. All people experience hardships in life. These hardships are tools of Satan to drive us away from God. But we are to use the trials to become better people for the service of God.
C. Leave worthless things
- While in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas preached to the people to turn from worthless things. These worthless things were the idols they were following. They worshipped the Roman and Greek gods as if they were real factors that altered their lives. We all have our gods that we must break down and eliminate. These are things we place a value on that we will sacrifice other things to maintain it. I believe we can boil down our idols into three consuming gods.
- The god of sufficiency (Work). It is amazing to me how work has become such an important aspect in people’s lives. Work is no longer about making some money to pay the bills. Work defines our character. Work is the amazing hall pass of elementary school. If we "have" to work, then no one questions it. It supposedly is the excuse of all excuses.
- Obviously work is necessary for our survival. But what I am questioning is our "have to" mentality toward work. I think many times we are lying to ourselves. It is not that we have to work and make various sacrifices, but that we want to work. We say we are making sacrifices, but we really are not because the other things in life God and family are not as important to us as our work.
- Without fail, people ask me if they are sinning by working rather than coming to worship on Sunday. The question is not one that I can answer with an obvious passage. But in many ways I think we are not asking the right questions and I would like to suggest two different questions to ask for us to determine if work is our god. First, what else is being sacrificed by work? Sometimes when we are sacrificing our Sundays we are also sacrificing the rest of our service to God. We are not praying, reading, studying, meditating, serving others, or teaching the lost because of our work. Many times work is our excuse because we do not want to do something else.
- The other question to ask is if you will be comfortable on the day of judgment telling God that work prevented us from doing what he commanded. Luke 14 tells the parable of the great banquet where those invited made excuses as to why they could not come. The master’s reaction was of anger. I know for myself that I would not feel good with any excuse as to why I did not live up to my duties and responsibilities as a servant of God. Physical work certainly would not give me confidence when the final accounting before God is done. Preachers have to be very cautious with this problem. Since the work is serving God, many have made undue sacrifices which have cost family life. Too often congregations expect preachers to disregard the family to serve them. All of us must make sure we are not sacrificing our spouses and children because we find our lives in work.
- The god of more (Wealth). Following closely with work is wealth. The other reason people plunge themselves into work is because wealth is what is important. Always wanting more and content only for a moment with what one has is a common problem. We work more because we want more. We are unwilling to scale back our standard of living. We are unwilling to make financial sacrifices so we sacrifice God and family.
- The god of self (Comfort). I suppose it was a little uncomfortable for Paul to be stoned. I supposed he was uncomfortable go among complete strangers and teaching the gospel in the face of persecution. Yet, one of the biggest reasons people to not obey the Lord is because it is not convenient. Churches are attempting to package God in a way that he can be convenient for you. If you like camping, he is the god of camping. If you like sports, he is the god of sports. Whatever you like, churches will market God for that need. We think we can change God to fit our need. We are encouraged to worship at the church of your choice. We think God is like an ice cream parlor, supposedly offering 31 flavors so we can pick what we like. We are exchanging the true and living God for a personal god we can put in our back pocket to make us feel better. Any attempt to make God what we want is to develop a worthless idol.
- As we conclude, I would like for us to take a moment to identify the important things in your life. Write down the things you enjoy, things that give you happiness, things that mean a lot to you, and so on. Then write down the amount of time spent in each pursuit on average per week. Add up the hours with God and hours with the family. Consider if we are placing a greater emphasis on the worthless things of life and not giving time to the things that truly matter.
According to Ecclesiastes, most of the things in this world are worthless things. Much of what we do is worthless. While we may receive temporary enjoyment, there is not lasting pleasure.