Acts 14 v 1-28:God breaks new ground - 23rd June 2013 - Maggie Thorp

Acts 14 Telling others about God: a story of power and opposition

Reading Acts 14:1-7

 Paul and Barnabas spoke so effectively that a great number of people believed –what can I learn from this passage about talking to others about Jesus?

Paul and Barnabas had a tremendous effect. They must have spoken really well to have so many believe as a result of their preaching. The Holy Spirit was using them powerfully.

But the powerful truth about God always seems to provoke equally powerful opposition. Is this like the laws of physics? Does ‘every action produces and equal opposite reaction’? In v2 we see how Jews are uniting with or rather using the Gentiles to stir up opposition and so to silence the Apostles and their message.

What is interesting is that this opposition did not make Paul and Barnabas stop. In fact they continued even more convincingly in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we read on to v3 we see the Lord enabling them to ‘perform signs and wonders’ confirming that it is Almighty God at work here.

Then in v 5 we read that a violent plot is hatched, but God’s Apostles are not fazed by this opposition and finally leave only when their lives (and therefore ministry) might be destroyed. They leave out of good sense rather than fear as is evident from verses 6  and 7. Because we read that as soon as they were in a new area they started preaching the Gospel again.

 So perhaps this is not such a good example ofNewton’s physics laws – the action of God produced a reaction but not one equally powerful. Isn’t this a good thing to bear in mind when our mouths go dry and we struggle to speak about him? Does that happen to you? It does to me. If you find it helpful to memorise Bible verses Ephesians 3:20  is a great one to recall on such occasions. It says,

... [God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...

Let’s read on in Acts and see what happens next.

Reading 14:8-20

The people we read of in Lystra worshipped different gods to the One true God of the Bible. This is just the same here in North Finchley and theUKas a whole isn’t it. So let’s look at Paul’s approach to see what we can learn for when we talk to those with diverse beliefs - colleagues, friends and those we meet in shops, the school gate and social gatherings.

One approach we might feel less confident about using is in verses 9 and 10. It is discerning where we see faith and using God’s power to bring healing. The account of Paul’s response to the lame man in v9 suggests that the man listening to them was showing signs of believing and so Paul felt prompted by the Holy Spirit, no doubt, to heal him. The lame man’s subsequent obedience to stand up confirms his faith. Here perhaps we need to be clear that this is not teaching that if you are sick, and someone prays for you and you are not healed it is your fault – you are not believing enough. Many Godly people in the Bible and throughout time have not been healed. Examples include Paul himself, and Timothy whose ill health is referred to but not in the context of healing. More recent Christians close to home include  the vicar of this very church Reverend Parks. Why did he die amid a very successful ministry when there were 100 young people in the youth fellowship. Only God knows why. 

The healing here in verse 10 seems to be a visual aid - to the man, to the crowd and to us the readers. A visual aid of the power of God to completely transform a life that responded to him. It is a visual aid of how that which cripples and restricts life  (i.e. sin) can be eradicated in an instant and a whole new life (and I mean whole in its sense of being fully intact, as well as an entirely new life) can begin when a person believes and obeys.

Discerning where faith is present and  healing people is not a way we may feel called to, as we encounter those of other faiths. But surely we have to do more than skip over these verses. What do we think about this? Is the age of God working miraculously over? Some believe it stopped when the last Apostle died. It was just for that time. Yet reports of miracles persist today. I remember a speaker who had been in a wheelchair with MS standing here speaking about God healing her some years ago.  In Acts and the Gospels God seems to use intellectual argument and miracles together not as an either or. It seems that as we have seen in Acts some accounts of evangelism include signs others do not.

A Filipino family called the Johns used to be atChristChurch. Their experience of being a Christian in thePhilippineswas very different to mine in Finchley. They said that it was not unusual for a neighbour or colleague to live in fear of evil spirits. Those claiming spiritual powers were regularly consulted and people were known to ask for curses to be placed on someone who had wronged them. In this highly charged evil climate the church frequently witnessed God acting powerfully and miraculously and to good effect. Many people were healed, came to faith in Jesus Christ and were freed from fear.

But this good effect of seeing the miraculous power of God does not automatically result in belief. Miracles alone cannot guarantee faith and they may even be misinterpreted as they are in this passage. Look in v19 of how quickly those seeing the lame healed are turned. They become persecutors of those bringing God’s healing! Even when Jesus himself miraculously healed as a possessed man the villagers took fear and begged Jesus to leave (see Mark 5), or  see John 11 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Some believed but others plotted his death. Perhaps God knows where miraculous signs are needed and where they will achieve little.

So let’s return to what we can learn about speaking to those of other faiths from this part of Acts, One tip Paul gives us is when he makes links between what he knows of the beliefs of the Roman god worshippers and the one true God he is proclaiming.  He is not blaming them for their beliefs. Rather v 17 he says “Friends, up until now (when you heard the truth) God let everyone go the way they choose”. Then in v 18 onwards he finds common ground in nature. He makes a connection with their gods - Zeus and Hermes that they thought they had to appease to ensure these gods gave them favourable weather on which they depended for agriculture. Then he explains how the one true God was the creator of weather and the whole world and has control over all aspects of it. And that this God loves and cares about them.

I wonder how good I am at thinking about the people I want to talk to about Jesus? Do I spend time in prayer and then listening to them so I can discern how to meet them where they are? If I am honest the answer would be not enough. How about you? Who has God given you a heart to pray for and opportunities to talk to? How much have you listened to what they believe? I know it might be scary to ask in case it feels like a wall will go up between you that is insurmountable. And you will be struck dumb. But let’s remember Ephesians 3:20  and take the risk.

What if our words are misunderstood though, you might be asking? Well, whilst many came to believe in God and in Jesus’ role in transforming lives and bringing people into the family of God, others completely misunderstood the message. Some were so resistant to the truth that they rejected God. Here their response is completely inconsistent and illogical. Look at vs 15 Paul explains that he and Barnabas are not gods rather it is the creator Almighty God that they need to worship Him. But instead of the crowd saying “Oh right, great, thanks!” and worshipping the true source of the miracle that they were so impressed by, they turn against Paul and Barnabas! Two minutes ago, they were calling them gods and wanting to sacrifice to them now they are beating them up!!

The irrational thinking of those who reject the truth is demonstrated here so well. It reminds me of someone very close to me who was baffled that I could believe in miracles and an invisible being who listened to my prayers. Of Jesus she said “No man is going to tell me what to do!” Yet she would not walk under ladders, felt encouraged if a black cat crossed her path and read her horoscope and mine every day. Perhaps our job is to say whatever we can about God and leave the Holy Spirit to do the convincing. He is far more able than we are after all. And we might never open our mouths if we thought it was all down to us. The responsibility would be paralysing!

However, the evidence is undeniable that even those who speak with amazing clarity and that God works powerfully in to speak to and to heal others are not immune from persecution and hardship.  The last few verses of this chapter reflect on this.

Reading 14:21-28

So if the strength of opposition to the Gospel is not to be underestimated what will strengthen and sustain us believers?

Luke writes in his gospel Luke 24:26 that it was Jesus’ destiny

"to suffer these things and then enter his glory" (Lk 24:26),

And here in Acts 14:22 he warns that Jesus’ followers 

must  go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22)

Many other verses confirm this: Rom 8:17; Phil 3:10-11; Col 1:24. Many hardships are to be expected as a normal, indeed necessary, part of the Christian life.  What we have read in this chapter certainly is evidence of this. But isn’t it interesting that the apostles did not despair and tear their clothes when they were to be stoned but only when they were to be worshipped? This shows a deep rooted faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Nothing was more important to those apostles than holding God up as the one to come to for wholeness, than to give credit to God for all He provides and to go on following and obeying Him in as the power of the Holy Spirit enabled them. In these last verses we see Paul doing everything he can to strengthen the church. He also brings encouraging testimony of what God has been doing on their trip to strengthen their faith.

As we talked about earlier the strength of opposition to the Gospel is not to be underestimated so we need not just to be effective at telling others about Christ but also about ensuring that our own roots of faith and trust in God and those of each other are strong so we can stand against opposition be it derision or violence or apathy. So we have faith that God able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

I just want to end with an invitation.  Let’s dare to be determined to respond to what we have learnt today and dare to talk to others about Jesus. But first let’s all look under the surface of our lives where only each of us and God can see. What do out roots look like? How are we drawing on what God provides to strengthen us so that we might stand against all the powers of this world that contrive to make us weak and ineffective?

Here are a few books that might help us talk about Jesus:

¡        ‘The Universe Next Door’ by James Sire and ‘A spectator’s Guide to World Views’ edited by Simon Smart which look into world views.

¡        ‘How Long O Lord?’ by D. A. Carson looks into the common objection about suffering and evil.

¡         ‘The Christ Files’ by John Dickson looks into the common objection about the historical reliability of the gospel accounts of Jesus.

Our God is a powerful God but he does not force us to take the opportunities he provides to grow in faith. The men’s and women’s social events can help us make new friends and get to know each other better. The home groups can help us question and discuss and give and get support. The hot potato evenings help us challenge our thinking about issues., The Bible and prayer can bring us into God’s presence daily. Serving on church rota’s holiday clubs and community outreach like English Tuition Classes and the 123 baby and toddler drop in bring us closer together and to those outside the church. What are you doing to help your roots grow? For as Acts shows us being a Christian is exciting and rewarding but it is not a walk in the park!

Let’s pray together:

Thank you Father that you are able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us.

Each time I sit down with someone this week may I remember this?