Have Good News, Will Travel
Bible Text: Acts 14:1 – 28 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Acts – What Kind of Church? | Acts 14:1 – 28
Have Good News, Will Travel
I thought we might start by getting our bearings,
Here’s a map of the Eastern Mediterranean, on the East you can see Syria, and Antioch, where, in chapter 13 last week, Paul and Barnabas were sent out by their church, to tell people about Jesus.
And if you follow the solid line, you can see how the story unfolded last week,
From Antioch to Cyrpus,
Across Cyprus, up to Perga, and then to Antioch, a different Antioch.
And in chapter 14 Paul and Barnabas head from Antioch to Iconium,
Then south to Lystra, to Derbe, back to Antioch, we’re on the dotted line now, that’s the return journey.
Down to Perga, Attalia, and then back across the Mediterranean to Antioch in Syria.
It’s what’s called Paul’s First Missionary Journey,
We might even leave that picture up for a bit so you can see as we go.
Acceptance and Rejection
And this missionary journey starts, with what we know is a common response to the good news of Jesus, both acceptance and rejection., Luke tells us, , At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed, But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers., So Paul and Barnabas left Iconium and went somewhere that had better prospects for the gospel,
That’s not what it says, does it?!
, Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord,
I would have thought, my message about Jesus is getting me in trouble, I’d better call it quits. But it’s precisely because of the trouble, that Paul and Barnabas stick around.
Charles Wesley was a famous 18th Century Preacher, and he was used to this kind of opposition. People who didn’t like Wesley’s message of forgiveness, peace with God, hope beyond the grave would throw rotten fruit and vegetables while preached. And often he was just , coated.
But one day, while he was riding along on his horse, Wesley realised he hadn’t had much opposition in a while, and he concluded that he must inadvertently been soft-pedalling his message, not presenting people’s sin and rebellion, and the glory of Christ clearly enough.
So he got down of his horse, and knelt beside the hedge-row and prayed, asking that God would help him preach a clear message, the message that draws this kind of response.
He finished praying and stood up, and just as his head came over the top of the hedge, and old woman saw him and called out, “Is that you Wesley?”, and hurled a rotten tomato at him!
I’m not saying we need to pray quite like that,
But Wesley knew what Paul and Barnabas knew, and what Christians throughout the ages have experienced, that not everyone will welcome the message of Jesus with open arms,
And yet these two continued their gospel conversations, because they knew they were speaking, not just about the Lord, they were speaking for the Lord, verse 3.
This was God’s message and God confirmed that it came from him, by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
A message confirmed by miracles
John Calvin, the leader of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, said about this section: We must note this phrase, that the Lord confirmed the message in miracle, for it shows the true use of miracles, that they may show to us the power and the grace of God;, but because we be wrong and perverse interpreters of them, that is, because we’re so prone to misunderstand miracles, lest they be drawn into abuse and corruption, God never allows them to be separated from his Word.
And he goes on, God has wrought miracles, for the most part, in such a way that the world might know him, not simply, or in his bare majesty, but in his Word.
Do you understand what he’s saying, and what Luke’s saying here?
God sent these miraculous signs and wonders, not just so that people can see something of his power, but to confirm the message.
The miracles were a way of God demonstrating that the message these 2 missionaries had brought, came with his authority.
You probably caught up with the news that Australia’s most decorated World War 2 servicewoman Nancy Wake died a couple of weeks ago. Nancy Wake supported the French Resistance, and became the most wanted resistance fighter in France, with a 5 million Franc price on her head.
Since her death people have been recounting her work behind enemy lines. If you’re working for the Resistance, and someone comes to you, claiming to have a message for you, how do you know that the message is real?
How do you know they’re speaking the truth?
The consequences for believing false information, and acting on false information are disastrous!
Well the person bearing the message would have a password, wouldn’t they?
Something they could only have got from the higher authority, and proved beyond a doubt where this message came from.
And in fact, in the lead up to D-Day, Nancy Wake rode a pushbike 400 Kilometres in 72 hours trying to find someone who would accept her message because she didn’t have the required password.
In Acts 14, Luke says the miracles were Paul and Barnabas’ password.
Here was the proof that their message came from God.
For anyone to come to faith, God has to be at work.
No one can leave a life of sin, a life lived in complete rebellion against God, and suddenly come to God, unless God is powerfully at work.
In that sense, every , coming to faith, is a miracle. But in this particular instance, God also acted visibly, to confirm the message of his grace.
A hopeless problem
And so Paul and Barnabas move on to Lystra, where what Luke wants to teach us, centres on the healing of this paralysed man.
Here’s a man with a hopeless problem.
In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth, and had never walked.
Kathy and I have started watching the TV series The West Wing again, for about the 10th time, and in one episodes, 2 of the characters are arguing, and they both get so fired up, that instead of actually forming arguments, they just keep repeating themselves, until they each point out to the other, “You just said 3 things that all mean the same thing”!
Well, Luke does that here, not because he doesn’t have an argument, but to emphasise the hopelessness of this man’s situation.
He was crippled in his feet,
He was lame from birth,
He had never walked.
No disability pension,
No disabled car-parks at the shops,
No one, can do anything for him.
A faith-based solution
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.
Paul, sees that this man has faith to be healed, and so calls on him, to demonstrate his faith. He says to the man, stand up on your feet!
Faith has to be demonstrated, doesn’t it?
The fact that this man might believe that this Jesus fellow who he’s hearing about, can help him, is of absolutely no use to him at all, if he just spends the rest of his life laying on his mat.
Charles Blondin was a French acrobat and tight-rope walk who achieved celebrity status in the 19th Century by crossing the gorge below Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
Blondin once, famously, asked the gathered crowd if they thought he could cross the tightrope carrying someone on his back.
Apparently every hand in the crowd went up, Blondin then asked for volunteers, who would like to be carried on his back across the gorge?
Not a single hand was left up!
Everyone said, “Yeah, we believe you can do it!”
No one was actually prepared to put that faith into action, to let that faith shape their decision making. And so it wasn’t real faith at all.
Real faith is being convinced by the evidence enough to let it shape your life.
This man demonstrates the reality of his faith,
“I don’t just give intellectual assent to the idea that Jesus can heal people, I have faith that he can heal me, and so when I’m told to get up, I get up.” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
As Christians we talk about having “faith” in Jesus.
What do we mean by that?
It can’t just mean that we we’re aware of certain facts , about Jesus.
He rose from the dead,
He is God who lived among his people.
He has the power and authority to forgive us for for the way we push God to the edges of our lives, and then , ultimately, out of our lives altogether,
He has the power to heal.
Faith in Jesus is not just saying, “Those things are true.”
Of course, those things are true, but if this man had just said, “I believe this Jesus can heal people”, but stayed on his mat, nothing in his life would have been different.
If we say, “I have faith that Jesus can forgive my sin and rebellion against God”, that requires action.
It means I can’t rely on any other means to get into God’s good books.
If we say, “I believe that Jesus is God made known”, that requires action.
It means that to hear Jesus speak, is to hear God speak, and therefore Jesus’ words need to be obeyed.
If we say, “I believe that Jesus rose from the dead”, that requires action. If I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then I can’t live as if this life is all there is.
I have to live knowing that how I spend my time,
The things I invest myself in,
How I spend my money even, have significance beyond the grave.
What we do in life, echoes in eternity. That sounds like it’s from the Bible but it’s Maximus from the movie Gladiator! But it’s true!
Death isn’t the end, since Jesus unwound death, and if we say we believe it, we need to live as if we do, right down to the daily, very ordinary decisions.
A deliberate parallel
It’s worth pausing to, reflect for a minute on the way that Luke has put his account of this episode together, and not just this account but actually his whole 2 volume work, Luke and Acts. Luke’s gospel covers about 33 years, Jesus’ earthly life, and part 2, the book of Acts, covers another 30 or so years.
A parchment scroll, which these books were written on, was about 10 metres long. Obviously if you’re condensing, 30 years of Jesus’ life, or 30 years of Jesus’ continuing ministry through the church, into 10 metres of scroll, you have to be very deliberate about what you put in, and what gets left out.
Luke, writing, as we believe, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chooses what information to include, to help us understand particular things about Jesus and the church.
And if we take a step back, we can see that Luke is drawing a very deliberate parallel, between the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the beginning of Paul’s ministry.
Sure, there are lots of other things that happened when Paul and Barnabas travelled around on this missionary journey, but Luke includes these particular episodes, to say to us, “Remember Jesus? Remember his ministry? Well it’s all still going on. This is the same ministry.
So in Luke chapter 4, right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus confronts the devil.
Last week, in chapter 13, right at the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, Paul confronts Bar-Jesus, who’s called the child of the Devil.
Bit later on in Luke 4, Jesus preaches in a synagogue, and the Jews reject his message, and they try to kill him.
Last week again, chapter 13 of Acts, Paul preaches in a synagogue, the Jews there reject his message, and he and Barnabas were driven out of the region.
And in Luke 4 & 5, Jesus heals many people, including a paralysed man, And the encounter leaves all the people around wondering, “Who is this man? , He’s doing what God does.”
And here in Acts 14, Paul heals a paralysed man, and When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”
Can you see why, out of the first 30 years of church history, Luke chooses to include these events from the beginning of Paul’s ministry?
Jesus is continuing his work, through Paul, whose ministry bears all the hallmarks of Jesus’ earlier ministry.
See you can’t , separate, Jesus and Paul.
A lot of people today, want to try and do just that.
“Jesus, I like, but Paul, no thanks!”
I’ll read the gospels but I don’t want to read anything that comes from Paul’s pen!
Do you think Luke, would allow us to say that?
It’s like someone saying to my wife Kathy, “Kathy, I really like you.
I want to spend time with you,
I want to hang out with you, share our lives together, but I don’t want anything to do with your husband. That Clayton, he’s a nasty piece of work!
Can you just make sure he’s never around?”
What would Kathy say? “Bad luck, it’s a package deal. You get me, you get him.”
Luke wants us to be absolutely convinced, that Paul’s ministry, the church’s ministry, is Jesus’ ministry.
Let’s keep going.
A case of mistaken identity
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, then leads in a herd of poor unfortunate bulls who are about to slaughtered, all because of a mix up!
There was a legend back in this day, that Zeus and Hermes had visited this very region. They visited a thousand houses looking for a room for the night, and were rejected and not recognised at each, until at house number 1001 an elderly couple welcomed them.
As a result, the gods transformed their little cottage into a magnificent temple, and destroyed the rest of the town.
With that story part of their cultural background, it’s not really surprising that the crowd reacted the way they did. That’s a mistake you don’t want to make twice!
But Paul and Barnabas want nothing to do with it, when they hear of it, they tear their clothes, a sign of blasphemy, and they try to stop the sacrifice from happening.
Two chapters ago, we saw King Herod, receiving praise as a god, and , the real God, the creator of heaven and earth, is swift in his punishment.
The leaders of the early church, they’re nothing like the leaders of the day. They don’t want to take glory for themselves that belongs to God.
Verse 14 is one of only 2 times in whole of Acts where Luke uses the word “Apostle” to describe someone other than the 12. Literally the word “Apostle” just means someone who is sent with a message. But Luke uses it, almost exclusively, in a very specific sense: those who had seen Jesus face to face and were sent out by him.
And not only is Barnabas called an apostle here, but he’s also referred to first, which he hasn’t been , since Paul kind of took centre-stage.
I think Luke is trying to underscore for us, these are just blokes. Just ordinary guys.
A guy called Barnabas, and a guy called Paul.
And they’re just messengers! Apostles. They’ve been sent with a message
What’s spectacular, even supernatural about these 2, is not them, but the message they bring.
A stark comparison
In verses 14 to 19, we see just how clear the contrast is, between the message brought by Paul and Barnabas, and the situation these Lycaonians were in.
Look with me from verse 15,
“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God,
How is their religion,
Their whole system of belief described?
These, worthless, things.
The Greek word for “worthless there”, is ματαίων. It means deceptive, vain, pointless. It describes something that seems good and promising, but in reality, achieves nothing.
We tend not to have temples and sacrifices today, or, at least our temples tend not to have columns and altars, and our sacrifices aren’t animals.
But we do make sacrifices for the things that we have made our gods.
Things like career,
We make sacrifices to our gods.
Even though these “gods” are ματαίων. Worthless.
It’s not to say that those things are intrinsically bad.
Some , or all of those things are great gifts from God.
But in as much as those things make claims,
Offer you some connection to God,
Seek to explain the purposes of the universe,
Make us think that they count for something when we’ll stand before God.
They are ματαίων. Worthless.
I’ve told some of you before, my dentist, whose a friend of mine he once diagnosed me G.A.S. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Having been medically diagnosed, I think I can now claim my Amazon.com purchases on Medicare!
But the getting of stuff is a funny one isn’t it?
We think “I’ll be happy if I get more stuff.
I’ll be able to handle life better if I have more stuff.
And so we get more stuff, only to realize that the getting of stuff doesn’t help me at all.
And so what’s the solution? I must need more stuff!
The very thing that didn’t solve the problem last time, must be the solution this time.
It’s ματαίων. Worthless.
The promises un-met by impotent gods and mute idols, are thrown into stark relief by the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.
Do you see the difference?
ματαίων. Worthless, the living God who made heaven and earth,
Fills your hearts with joy
A starting-point for talking about Jesus
This is the first speech, or sermon in Acts that’s given to an exclusively pagan audience, no background history with the God of Israel,
No concept of the fact that there’s one God.
No familiarity with the promises of God, and the story of his dealings with his people throughout the Bible.
And in that sense, the people in this crowd in Lystra are very similar to most of the people who you and I rub shoulders with every day.
And so Acts 14 gives us a starting point for talking about Jesus to the people we know, who, are like this.
Paul begins, in verse 15, with God the creator, who creates people for a relationship with him. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea,
You don’t just acknowledge God, you turn to God.
What these false and empty gods can never give, you can find in a relationship with God.
Do you know that’s an almost entirely foreign concept to most people today? That we were created for a relationship with God?
Paul’s goes on to say that God is patient. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Not that people were free of guilt for ignoring God, but the “In the past”, implies a change, a now!
In the fullness of time, as Paul says to the Galatians. God wasn’t standing around, waiting for people to stuff up so he could zap them, but at just the right time, he sent his Son, Jesus.
Even so, in those days before Christ, God hadn’t been silent. He’d been making his character known. Verse 17, 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.”
You know that question, “What’s God ever done for me?” We’ll here’s the start of the answer. Before Paul’s even got to talking about who Jesus is, and what God’s done for people in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, he’s already explained that everyone who’s ever enjoyed the benefits of life, has experienced God’s goodness.
David Peterson, who spoke at our Revelation Music and Ministry Conference a few weeks ago, describes Paul’s speech like this. It is a biblical foundation for evangelism in a culture where fundamental presuppositions about God, and nature, and the meaning of human existence need to be challenged.
Maybe for people we know, the shift, to considering God like this, through this lens, is their starting point for getting to grips with the whole of what God has made known of himself in Jesus.
And maybe actually that’s you. If you’re not a Christian. If you’re here today because you’re trying to find stuff out, work out what Christians believe.
Do you need to adjust your lens?
Consider God like this?
Is this who you think of, when you think of God?
Or does your picture need some , touching up?
We’d love to help you do that.
A couple of other great things to think about from this passage that relate to talking about Jesus.
We see the same kind of reaction that we’ve seen elsewhere in Acts, verse 19, They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead., But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up, and went back into the city!
He went back for more! No thought of “Well that didn’t work, I’m not going to try that again!” No, straight back into the lion’s den.
What does Paul say when he and Barnabas get back to Antioch in verse 22? We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”
If you want an easy life, where no one hates you, and no one objects to what you say. Don’t become a Christian! That’s my advice to you.
But when you suffer for your faith,
When you are rejected and ridiculed and mocked and gossiped about, for speaking about Jesus, don’t think that God’s plans have somehow gone off the rails.
With all of my heart, let me encourage you, to get up, and go back into the city.
A bit later on, we’re going to spend some time praying, and there’ll be opportunity, if you would like to, to pray , briefly, where you are, for the spread of the gospel of Jesus. Whether that’s conversations you’re having, missionaries you’re connected with, the opportunities before our church, Jesus Week on campus this week, whatever it might be.
George Whitefield was an English Anglican minister, who was a key figure in what’s called the First Great Awakening in the American Colonies in the 18th Century.
Whitefield was an outstanding preacher, who constantly called on his hearers to repent and turn to God, often preaching in the open air. One of the people who was intrigued by Whitefield and his preaching was Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Whitefield and Franklin became very good friends, with Franklin supporting Whitefield’s ministry, although he never came to faith in the God about whom Whitfield spoke.
Once while Whitfield was preaching on the steps of the Philadelphia Courthouse, Franklin walked away, until he couldn’t hear Whitefiled clearly. He then calculated a semi-circle focussed on Whitfield, and allowing for the space that one person occupies when they’re standing still, estimated that up to 30,000 people could have heard the gospel that day.
But when he relayed this figure to Whitfield, his friend was kind of , unimpressed. And Whitfield later wrote about Benjamin Franklin “He never quite understood, that how far my voice carried to people’s ears, didn’t matter nearly as much as the reception it got in people’s hearts”
That’s what we’re praying for.