Summary: We are call to be faithful, not successful
August 9, 2015
Knocked Down, Not Out
Opening words: In 1858 the Illinois legislature--using an obscure statute--sent Stephen A. Douglas to the U.S. Senate instead of Abraham Lincoln, although Lincoln had won the popular vote. When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, "Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh." This is my question for you today. When was the last time you were disappointed? Perhaps, this is a better question. How do you handle your disappointments?
This is sermon number thirty in my sermon series called Church Planting. During the summer months, I have been preaching through the Book of Acts. This is no small task, because Acts has so much to offer. I believe the Holy Spirit is vital to our future success. Human effort and determination are not enough to revive the church. It is the Holy Spirit who created the church originally, and it must be the Holy Spirit who revives the church again. With this understanding, let us look at our scripture lesson for today, Acts 14:8-20. Let me call this message Knocked Down, Not Out.
Acts 14:8-20 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. 19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
When was the last time you were disappointed? You can admit it. Everyone experiences disappointment. History is filled with disappointed people. Let me give you a few famous examples.
Alexander the Great conquered Persia, but broke down and wept because his troops were too exhausted to push on to India.
Hugo Grotius, the father of modern international law, said at the last, "I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life."
John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the U.S., wrote in his diary: "My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations, and in ceaseless rejected prayers that something would be the result of my existence beneficial to my species."
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote words that continue to delight and enrich our lives, and yet what did he write for his epitaph? "Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much."
Cecil Rhodes opened up Africa and established an empire, but what were his dying words? "So little done, so much to do." When was the last time you were disappointed? When was the last time you felt knocked down? If that makes you think, say, “Amen!” Let us look at the scripture lesson together.
Once again, we find ourselves in the fourteenth chapter of Acts. By now you should know that Paul and Barnabas are on their first missionary journey. To be more exact, they are on the island of Cyprus. This week we are in the town of Lystra. As with all new ministries, their expectation must have been high. They must have dreamed of winning the whole community to Jesus. Their evangelistic efforts in that town began with the community’s saddest citizen. According to the text, this gentleman had never walked. It is safe to say he was a professional beggar; he existed on the compassion of others. His friends or family placed him in his spot in the morning and took him home at night. He was a common sight. The whole community saw him as a victim, but Paul saw more. He asked the man to do something he had never done, walk! You know what happened. The man got up and walked. There should have been a happy ending to the story, but the crowd doesn’t understand. To Paul and Barnabas, the healing was performed to demonstrate the power of God. This is where the story falls apart. To the people of Lystra, the miracle proved that Paul and Barnabas were gods. Have you ever done something for the right reason but everything went completely wrong? They tried to explain their actions, but their words fell on deaf ears. Before it began, their grand expectations for that town were shattered. Then, things got even worse. People from the former community showed up and incited the crowd against them. Paul is stoned and left for dead outside of the city. Some say Paul was resurrected. Others say Lystra had the worst coroner in the history of the world. Regardless, Paul lived after the stoning. He got up, and along with Barnabas moved on to the next community, Derbe.