Devotional # 54. 9/30/13. Paul and Barnabas face Tribulations.
This week’s Reading: Acts 14: 1-28.
Introduction. Last week we discussed how it was that Paul and Barnabass endured difficulties but still had joy. We determined it was because they loved people as Jesus does since they were used by the Holy Spirit. This week the tribulations get even more serious, in fact it’s pretty crazy! Read chapter 14 to find what kind of insanity the preachers live through…
vv. 1-3. Since last week’s Devotional (in Acts 13) Paul and Barnabas have traveled 80 miles south east to Iconium where they are preaching (Source 1, p. 1659). Initially a lot of the people, both Jews and Gentiles, believed in Jesus. However “the unbelieving Jews” tell lies about the preachers, but do you notice to who? It’s not to the believing Jews but to the Gentiles. It’s possible that the believing Jews knew the prophesies and had read the Bible and could see that Jesus was clearly the Savior whereas the Gentiles didn’t have the background so they were easily “poisoned.”
vv. 4-7. A plan is made to stone (explained in Devotional 47- basically throwing rocks at a person until they die) Paul and Barnabas but they find out about it. They escape and go to “Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia” and of course preach there.
vv. 8-13. Paul and Barnabas are first in Lystra, heal a man and the people immediately assume they are gods. The pagan priests are told and they set up to have a massive sacrifice to the two Christians!
vv. 14-18. We’ll settle here for a bit. It is so important how Paul and Barnabas handle this. They plainly deny they are anything more than men. Then wisely point to the true God and start at the foundational level of Creation. When we share the Bible with others it is obvious that there is an earth around us. Reading the Holy Spirit’s words through Paul in Romans 1:19-21 we see that it is obvious to every person that God’s powers are clearly seen in Creation. At one point they have all known there is a God but may have chosen to reject or ignore or believe a lie or whatever. Either way here in Acts, Paul points them to a tangible proof of God. Then he says, ‘God let your grandparents do what they wanted but He always left a witness of Himself through Creation. Haven’t you seen rain? What about profitable crops? Have you died from starvation or had enough to eat? And have there been fun times?’ Paul’s point is that they didn’t deserve it but God took care of them: constantly proving Himself and calling them to Him! But they don’t get it, they just want to worship Paul and Barnabas.
vv. 19-20. Bad timing, the unbelieving Jews from Iconium have tracked them to Lyconia and they’re out for blood. They actually convince the same people who thought they were gods to kill them. So they take Paul out and stone him. Although some think Paul actually died here and was resurrected that’s not what the Bible is saying. It says they “supposed him to be dead.” The “supposed” here means ‘assuming something that it untrue.’ Also Luke (the writer) would have probably mentioned it here if a resurrection happened (Source 1, p. 1660). Nevertheless, Paul is left under a heap of rock and was really badly messed up. What does he do? He wakes up and goes back into the city. Then they spend the night and leave for Derbe.
vv. 21-22. They preach in Derbe and see many converts. Then where do they go? They head back home (Antioch, Acts 13:1) and go back through the cities they had just come from. What made Paul and Barnabas risk going through Lystra where they were worshiped and stoned? Why walk through Iconium where the guys who hunted them down and stoned them are from? Because God isn’t just interested in converts but in disciples who continue to walk in the faith. Paul and Barnabas return because God had been faithful to speak to people’s hearts and churches had started. It isn’t enough for us to run around with a bull horn preaching the gospel but we have a relationship with the people and hold them accountable. But as Paul and Barnabas “strengthened” and “exhorted” these believers the question on everyone’s mind was ‘guys, should you be here? It seems dangerous being a Christian.’ And Paul and Barnabas respond with “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
Who better to say this then these two? They were the rubber meeting the road. It can be difficult for Americans to relate to persecution since the most we face is a grumpy co-worker or some teenage “missionaries” riding bikes, knocking on doors asking if we need help with anything. But, Christian, be aware what Paul and Barnabas say here is a universal truth, this wasn’t just for somebody 2,000 years ago in a city we’ve never heard of. In order to enter heaven we must go through “tribulations”, which in the Greek here is thlipsis (G2347). This word literally means “pressing together” or “pressure” and figuratively means “oppression, affliction, tribulation” (Source 2). So the next time you are going through something difficult remember that you get to go through it to enter heaven. Instead of trying to squirm out of the pressure try praying for God’s strength to overcome it. Interestingly if you read ahead in Acts 16:1 Paul goes back through this area and meets Timothy, who becomes like a son to him. It is possible that Timothy had seen all that Paul went through on this first trip through the region and was so moved by God (and his godly mother) that he became a believer and joined the church (Source 3). If you want to know more Christians enduring trials read Romans 8:28-29, C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain and/ or email me because I have some great stuff on it.
vv. 23-28. In each church they set up the leadership of elders and “prayed with fasting.” Once they arrive back in Antioch they got to re-tell the stories of God’s faithfulness on their trip. This is very important for Christians to do. I was talking to someone this week, telling about some difficult times in my life but what God had done through it. Usually it’s not just for us to learn from but it’s also for us to tell others about. Exhorting other Christians or relating to non-believers. This doesn’t mean we tell every person we meet every time something happens but weeks or years later you may have the wisdom to look back and be able to share it.
And it doesn’t seem like the trials were the focus of what Paul and Barnabas said either. They worshipped God for saving so many “Gentiles.” Also notice that God gave them a break. When “they stayed there a long time with the disciples” it was a time of peace and restoration. I have noticed that when I have an especially busy and stressful week or month God is always faithful to give me time to relax. As we mature and are able to calmly handle more stress and responsibilities the need for restoration isn’t as often. When we are praying for God’s will to be done in our life it changes our mentality and we can endure more while relishing the times of peace even more.
Conclusion. Paul and Barnabas argued with “unbelieving Jews” who tried to kill them, they escape, heal a guy and get worshipped as gods then the Jews attempt murder. But we again see the joy and restoration that they have as all these difficulties happen to them. They persevere, knowing that Jesus died on the cross for every one of their enemies. Paul must have looked through different eyes then most people. He had been on the other side murdering Christians and now he was being hunted and killed in the same way!
Oh Lord, help us to put on Christ (Romans 13:14, Galatians 3:27) as we go through the temptations that Satan brings (Matthew 4:1-11, James 4:7) the trials You give us (Psalm 119:75) and the difficulties of our sinful flesh (Romans 7:14-21, James 1:14-15). We recognize we can do nothing on our own so with these inevitable hard times please keep Your promises and give us the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) and the joy of seeing Your kingdom built in Your way and time (Isaiah 61:4)! Amen.
Source 1: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible.
Source 3: David Guzik’s Commentary: http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_14.cfm?a=1032001