Summary: Apostolic Christianity is opportunity driven.
Do verses 2-3 make sense to you?
"But the Jews who spurned God’s message stirred up distrust among the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas, saying all sorts of evil things about them..."
At which point--based on prior patterns in the book of Acts, you’d expect Luke to say, "So they were let over the city walls under the cover of darkness and went on to the next city" or "And again they shook the dust from their feet and left."
But that is not at all what Luke says. Listen. "But the Jews who spurned God’s message stirred up distrust among the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas, saying all sorts of evil things about them. The apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord."
This is an interesting line--"The apostles stayed there a long time..."
I wonder how long is long. My experience is that when things aren’t going well they take longer.
Traveling with whining children takes longer than traveling with content children--even though the distance is the same and the time of the clock is identical.
If you’re a teacher you know that some school years are longer than other years--even though they’re technically the same, all with the same number of classroom hours mandated by the state.
If you’re recovering from a disease the clock slows down while you’re stuck at home instead of being off at work or out playing with your friends.
Everything seems to take a long time when life isn’t going well. And it doesn’t take much before you’re looking for a way out.
I’m sure that there are some people who make most of their major decisions in life in reaction to negative circumstances. They marry because they think it’s the easiest way out from under the authority of restrictive parents or they change jobs because their current office is wrought with conflict.
One of my neighbors told me that if we got too many people of a certain race (which I won’t mention) on our street he’d sell and move somewhere else--and by the way, he is of color himself.
So many decisions are made in reaction to perceived negative circumstances. Yet, in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 14 we have a demonstration of the staying power of the apostles.
No, things are not perfect in Iconium. But Paul and Barnabas stay there a long time anyway! Which really leads us to raise the question, why? Why Iconium?
In Damascus Paul escapes over the city wall when the Jewish leaders rise up. In Jerusalem the disciples sent Paul away after some Greek-speaking Jews plotted to murder him. In Antioch, as we read last week, a mob ran the apostles out of town. But in Iconium--they stayed "a long time."
Why? I suspect that the phrase that follows sheds a bit of light. "The apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. The Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders."
They stayed a long time because the opportunity to preach the good news and to do ministry remained.
No, it wasn’t an easy setting and eventually they’d have to flee. And, no, people weren’t all responsive. Even miracles and signs and wonders failed to convince some people. But the apostles stayed as long as the opportunity remained.
They were so convinced that the resurrection of Christ was so important--more important than safety--and that they were so called to tell others about the Good News of new life in Christ--that safety and convenience issues paled.
This was life and death. Some people--perhaps a few--perhaps thousands--would find new life in Christ--would have their lives completely transformed--their eternal standing changed because the apostles were willing to take advantage of the opportunities--even if they were limited.
So the apostles kept pushing on the envelope. They were pushing the limits--living on the edge--as evidenced by the number of times they were driven out by mobs, escaped over city walls, or in the case of chapter 14 were stoned and left for dead.
They saw the opportunity to preach as being so significant that they were willing to stick their foot in the door even though they knew that sometimes they’d end up with crushed toes.
Apostolic Christianity is opportunity-driven. This is the key point this morning.
And I want to be so bold as to suggest that we need to swing on the same hinge.
Most of us will never go to distant cities to preach--some will--but most of us will be witnesses and agents of the kingdom of God in more common settings. As teachers. As business people. As social workers and farmers. Doctors and diplomats.
These are all places where you can have an impact for the kingdom of God and the spread of the gospel--if you are opportunity-driven.