Text: Acts 14:1-7
Main Point: Expect to wrestle against opposition
The Jesus we love and follow was humiliated, tortured, and crucified. Before Jesus’ humiliation, torture, and crucifixion he told his disciples what would happen. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Notice, that Jesus’ victory over the world does not mean ease for us. No, Jesus’ defeat of sin and death means we can have peace while we face the troubles of this world. The resurrection of Jesus works peace, rest, comfort, and endurance in us. By troubles of this world Jesus is referring to the opposition, hostility, hatred, and violence done to Christians for being Christians. This is that ancient and promised enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15). God’s people have always been opposed, but God gives his people a mission to rescue and redeem the opposing world through the gospel of Jesus Christ. God gives his people a promise; Jesus will be with us with life and joy as we sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of others.
Today we get back into the Book of Acts and the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. We are in Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas are taking the gospel from the church in Antioch out into the opposing world. This first missionary journey has taken them from Antioch in Syria, into the Mediterranean Sea, across the island of Cyprus, and up to Antioch in Pisidia. There in Antioch, the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, believed, and opposed. Paul and Barnabas are run out of town and travel southeast to the town of Iconium, or Konya, in modern day Turkey. This is the biblical region known as Galatia.
The point of the story is that as the gospel advances the gospel is opposed. We Christians should expect Jesus’ help as we wrestle against opposition. Let’s read it; let’s read Acts 14:1-7.
Like Paul and Barnabas, we need to
I. Find places for the gospel to advance (1)
As we follow the missionary journeys of Paul, we’ll see how he was intentional with his work. Paul and Barnabas were not aimlessly wandering around looking for someone to share the gospel with; they had a plan of attack
- Paul and Barnabas used local synagogues
From Damascus (9:20) to Cyprus (13:5) to Antioch in Pisidia (13:14) and continuing into Iconium (14:1), when the missionaries entered the city they went for the synagogue. This follows the understanding in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. The gospel fulfills God’s promises to Adam, Abraham, Israel, and David.
Paul and Barnabas, both Jewish Christians, understood the obligation to take the good news of life with God to the Jew first and also to the Greek. The best place to have these conversations and to announce this good news would be the synagogues were Jews and God-fearing Greeks would gather weekly to pray and hear God’s Word.
We do well to think creatively about where we can meet unbelievers and share the good news of life with God through faith in Jesus Christ. What are the “synagogues” of today? What is our plan of attack? The BSM lunches at Weatherford College Granbury Campus are a good start. There you can sit and talk with college students about religion and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We are scheduled to host the lunches on January 19, February 16, and April 20. We meet at the school at noon and we need you to come and speak in such a way that a great number of college students believe. You see,
- Paul and Barnabas spoke with the goal of belief
Our goal must be more than an info-dump. We must not be sloppy, distracting, or confusing with our words. We must speak so that others believe.
As we think about making disciples, this is an important question: do you know how to speak so that people can hear, understand, believe, and be reconciled to God? Do you have the confidence to accurately preach Jesus so that men and women can hear and believe in Jesus? This is discipleship. Please reach out to an elder and let us know if you need help sharing the gospel. We want to equip you to speak the gospel so that people can be saved.
Those who can explain the gospel must find places to explain the gospel. Come to the BSM lunch on January 19. Use your dining room table to invite people into gospel conversations and Bible reading. Let’s plan and pray about how to make a gospel impact with our neighbors in the RV park just down the street. We have work to do and doing that work means we need to
II. Prepare for opposition (2)
Look at verse 2 with me, “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Some Jews, verse 1, believed, but some Jews, verse 2, stirred up and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles. There are two tactics here in verse 2 that are used against the gospel.
- One tactic is to run the herd over a cliff
The Jews who disobeyed the gospel started and intensified opposition against the church (Louw-Nida 68.9). The unbelievers capitalized on herd mentality. Herd mentality is the tendency for people’s behavior or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong (Oxford Dictionary). The unbelieving Jews wanted the unbelieving Gentiles to stay unbelieving, so peer pressure is applied to keep people from worshipping Jesus.
This type of opposition is mainly accomplished through stirring up fear and anger. “These people are going to hurt you and must be stopped. These people are taking from you and must be destroyed. Get your pitchfork and come with us!” This is a call to discernment. When you are in a group, that group can be your friends at school, your group can be your work, your group can be your neighborhood, your group can be your political party, and your group can be this church. When you are in a group, think about what the leaders of that group are trying to do. Are the leaders trying to stir up fear and anger in you in order to accomplish their will? Are you being radicalized and for what purpose? Even in the church, be aware of the herd mentality and do not let your decisions be made by the manipulation of your emotions.
When it comes to evangelism and making disciples, we need to be prepared for opposition from governments, from employers, and from families. But don’t fool yourself, a herd is not necessarily a bad thing (teams, marriages, families, and churches are herds) but a bad-thinking and bad-living herd is a bad thing. Prepare to be opposed by leaders who turn your friends and family against Jesus and his church. Here’s another tactic
- One tactic is to poison the waterhole
Here I’m quoting Woody from Toy Story, “Somebody poisoned the waterhole.” We need to understand that the enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is often fought at the level of ideas. Acts 14:2, “The unbelieving Jews poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers.” The unbelieving Jews were saying things and arguing for things which led the souls of the people to do evil to the church. Ideas have consequences.
Here is a call to not only preach the truth but defend the truth. One herd is telling our neighbors that Jesus and his church are an evil that must be exterminated. We are telling our neighbors that Jesus and his church are a good that must be expanded. Can you defend Jesus, his gospel, and his church when under attack? This is not mere self-defense but the defense of our brothers and sisters for the advance of the gospel. Resources here are first the Bible- daily read and study the Bible thinking about how to advance biblical ideas against opposing ideas (2 Cor 10:4-6). Books I have found particularly helpful on this point are Greg Koukl’s book Tactics and Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God.
Grab onto this: our neighbors are becoming increasingly hostile toward Christ and his church. We need to be full of hope, not fear, and we need to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us. Be prepared and
III. Commit to the long haul (3-4)
Paul and Barnabas show us a noble response to opposition, verse 3, “So they remained a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” Remember this,
- Truth is quickly abandoned and slowly believed, therefore stay the course
Their response to increasing opposition was enduring faithfulness. What had God called them to do? Acts 13:47, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Maybe Paul is thinking about his own deep-seated long-standing opposition to the gospel; but God saved Paul. Maybe Paul is thinking about Stephen’s faithful witness in the face of fierce opposition; Stephen was faithful unto death.
Many of us are grieved by the anger we see, hear, and feel from your neighbors. Many of us are stunned by the way our neighbors’ souls are being poisoned. How is it that the cross is bent so easily into a swastika? The church must find its prophetic voice against evil and commit to the long haul. People rarely change overnight; remain for a long time with your neighbor and
- Speak boldly
Paul and Barnabas were wildly out-numbered. If they keep this witness up, they’re going to get their heads beat in. where is the boldness coming from? Their boldness comes from knowing God. They continue speaking openly and with complete confidence because of God not because of their situation. The phrase in verse 3 is “speaking boldly for the Lord” but that little preposition is difficult to nail down. Epi generally means on. They were speaking boldly on the Lord; speaking boldly on the subject of the Lord. Also, they were speaking boldly standing on the Lord; speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord. The Lord they clearly and constantly preached is the Lord who gave them strength.
Jesus is worthy and trustworthy. Jesus is worthy because he is very God who gives us eternal life and complete joy because he gives us his life with God. We preach the worthiness of Jesus, worth more than freedom and ease and power. We preach because Jesus is trustworthy, he will guide us, sustain us, empower us, and give us peace during the storm. We are called to remain for a long time explaining the gospel because Jesus is worthy and trustworthy. To be faithful witnesses, we must
- Seek the Lord’s help (Acts 4:29)
It is good, when boldly explaining the gospel, to beg the Lord to prove it. In Acts 14:3 we see that the Lord bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Listen to the church’s prayer in Acts 4, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (4:29-30).
Miracles served to authenticate the message. Think about healings and exorcisms like a notary’s stamp. The stamp does not create the message but serves to validate it. This is true, listen to this, act upon this.
What should we do with this? This passage convicts me, when I am explaining Jesus, to pray “God prove it to him.” Lord willing, when we go to the college lunch on January 19, I’ll get the opportunity speak boldly about Jesus. I plan to pray this prayer while I defend the faith, “God prove it to him.” Seeing that I believe miracles have neither ceased nor become common, I have an openness to asking the Lord to prove the gospel message as He sees best. This proof can come internally through changing the will or convincing the mind, or the proof can come externally through the miraculous. Remember though, preaching the truth does not require performing the miraculous, but the miraculous requires the preaching of the truth.
Stick around, boldly explain the gospel, seek the Lord’s help and
- Remember that division is necessary (1 Cor 11:9)
Division is all over these seven verses. There are believing Jews and unbelieving Jews. There are believing Gentiles and unbelieving Gentiles. There are the brothers and those who are against the brothers. Verse 4 says, “But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.” The division in the city happened around Jesus and what he demands. Looking at the church, 1 Corinthians 11:19 says, “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you maybe be recognized.” The division in the church happened around Jesus and what he demands. The bottom line is that the gospel divides. Jesus said he would divide father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (Luke 12:53).
Listen, we will divide from others based on whatever is our god. You cannot serve two masters (Mt 6:24) and you cannot avoid division. What you can do is work hard to ensure the division is about the worthy and trustworthy Jesus. What you can do is labor to show how your positions are tied directly to Jesus and the cross-shaped life. I fear that we live in a day when we have made gods out of good things like government, the family, and diversity. We love our idols with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and expect Jesus to get on board, but Jesus will not be co-oped for political gain. Division comes from faithfully preaching the gospel over the long haul and division comes from making an idol out of a good thing. The next time you feel an argument starting, ask if this is about Jesus and his way of life or if the argument is about an idol.
Here’s the final command with three quick qualifications
IV. Do what you need to do (5-7)
Read Acts 14:5-7
Kenny Rogers was right, “You’ve got to know when to hold em. Know when to fold em. Know when to walk away and know when to run.”
- Sometimes, you need to stay like Nehemiah (Neh 6:10-14)
Read Nehemiah 6:10-14 this afternoon. When the death threat came against Nehemiah, he perceived that it was an empty threat meant to intimidate him. God had called him to stay and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah could not be faithful to the call and run away. Through prayer, discernment, and knowing his situation, Nehemiah was able to see that the threat was empty. Though threatened, Nehemiah stayed and continued the work. Sometimes, you need to stay like Nehemiah. But,
- Sometimes, you need to flee like Paul and Barnabas
Remember, Paul had been a rock throwing Jew who confesses in Acts 22:20 and 26:10 to his involvement in the murder of Christians. Paul understood rage and torture and murder (Acts 9:1). Paul also understood his call to take the gospel to Gentiles. Nehemiah had a calling to Jerusalem and so he stayed. Paul and Barnabas had a calling to the Gentiles and so they stayed as long as they could.
John Calvin sorts through the confusion of when to stay and when to go with this advice. “This is the right kind of fear, when the servants of Christ do not run willfully into the hands of their enemies to be murdered, and yet they do not [abandon] their duty; neither does fear hinder them from obeying God when he calls; and so, consequently, they can afford, if need be, to go even through death itself to do their duty” (Calvin, Acts 14, 7).
It is calling that determines if a Christian stays and dies or flees and lives. It is calling that determines if a family stays in the neighborhood or leaves the neighborhood. There are a 1000 things you can do, but what has God called you to do? One on one discipleship can help you sort out God’s call and what faithfulness looks like. With a faithful brother or sisters, pray and talk these decisions out. Sometimes you hold em, sometimes you fold em, sometimes you walk away, sometimes you run but
- Always preach the gospel
Paul is concerned about policies and rights; this will become clear in chapter 16. We should be concerned about policies and rights, but policies and rights are always a distant second to advancing the gospel. We should advocate for policies and rights that serve to advance the gospel.
Verse 7, Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra and Derbe and there they laid low. There they decided to keep their mouths shut so they didn’t get in trouble. Paul and Barnabas decided to just quietly make tents for the glory of God. No, verse 7, there they continued to preach the gospel.
As we close. I challenge you to do a mental inventory of your preaching this past week. Think about the arguments you got into or the rants you want off on. If you are on social media, I challenge you to sit down this afternoon and do a quick scan of your own page on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. What does this past week reveal about your idols? As we engage the brokenness and the error around us and in us, are you preaching Christ? Does the love of Christ compel you to work for redemption or does your idol compel you to crush your opponent? Do you carry a noose to destroy your opponent or do you carry the cross to redeem your opponent? May the worthy and trustworthy Jesus compel us to preach boldly and stay for the long haul. The Jesus we love and follow was humiliated, tortured, and crucified. Jesus will be with us with life and joy as we sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of others. Let’s go and make disciples of Jesus. Let’s pray.