Summary: How Barnabas and Paul met the different strategies that Satan used to stop them.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 21
“Staying the Course”
You may not remember from our previous study but Paul and Barnabas had set out on what was to be their first missionary journey. On Cyrus they had preached the gospel, with no response except indifference. In Paphos they finally had a convert, but only after a fierce battle with a wizard. They had set sail for Asia Minor, but this proved to be to much for John Mark who returned home. In Pisidian Antioch they again preached with great effect (13:42-52), which also brought great persecution, so they finally shook the dust off their feet and headed for Iconium. Through all the ups and down, successes and reversals they had maintained a unswerving devotion and singleness of purpose in following Christ. Now in Chapter 14 we find Paul and Barnabas completing what they had begun, the first missionary journey. They traveled through three cities, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe before returning to their sending church in Antioch of Syria. The conditions and receptions were different in each city to which they came. And in each city Satan used a different strategy to try to stop the spread of the gospel.
“Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.”
In setting up their witness in the major city of the area, the two missionaries followed a pattern Paul would continue to follow – establishing his work in the major population centers. At Iconium the missionaries met with immediate success and immediate opposition. When they came to the synagogue they found an immediate response. When the gospel is genuinely preached we can expect to see changed lives. But as surely as the preaching of the gospel will generate results it will also arouse opposition.
(v. 2) “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.”
Dr. Luke says that certain of the Jews were “unbelieving.” Literally the word is “unpersuadable.” They not only disbelieved the gospel, they would not give it a chance or even consider its claims. In fact this same verb is translated as “disobedient” in Romans 10:1 and 1 Peter 2:7,8 & 3:20. Here they were not met with outright open opposition that they had faced in Antioch. Here it was a subtle, whispering, deceitful, poisonous propaganda that is spread against them and it had its effect.
(v. 3) “Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. “
When their enemies stirred up hatred against them, what did Paul and Barnabas do? We might have expected this verse to read, “Therefore, they spoke cautiously.” But instead we read that danger prompted boldness rather than timidity in these men. Undeterred by this resistance, or even because of it these men stayed around and for a long time and continued to speak out boldly. These men had spunk. Great men of God have always manifested this trait. “It was reported that John Wesley once encountered a village bully when their carriages met upon a narrow road. The bully knew Wesley and disliked him and would not give him any leeway, staying in the middle of the road. John Wesley cheerfully gave the man the entire road, even though he had to turn into the ditch. As they passed, the bully said, ‘I never turn out for fools,’ and Wesley all of five foot two – retorted, ‘I always do.” [As quoted by R. Kent Hughes. Acts: The Church Afire. Wheaton, ILL.: Crossway Books, 1996) p. 183.]
This verse rises a good point. If there is nothing about you as a Christian, which cannot be explained in terms of your personality, your background or education or something else, then you really have nothing more to offer to your neighbors and friends than any other person would.
(vv. 4-7) “But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. (5) And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, (6) they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. (7) and they were preaching the gospel there.”
As the apostles continued their ministry the populus became more and polarized into those who supported them and those who opposed them. Jesus said that the message he preached would divide men (Matt. 10:34). One of the marks of the preaching of the gospel is that those who are affected by it are divided. They are either for or against. It is not possible to be neutral when the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.