Sunday, August 15, 2021

Paul & Barnabas on the Move: The Holy Spirit spreads the Gospel against Demonic Oppression

So we’ve gone from Jesus Christ, alive from the dead, commanding his rag tag band of followers to make disciples of the whole world. They set out to do that in Jerusalem but faced severe persecution. So they fled off into the roman empire preaching the gospel wherever they went. Peter, Philip, and the various disciples spread the gospel wherever they went. But the Jewish authorities pursued them, sending Saul of Tarsus to arrest them. But this Pharisee Saul was converted radically while traveling on the road, he saw Jesus calling him. And so this persecutor became a disciple of Jesus, Saul, now renamed Paul, with his new companion Barnabas, headed out from Antioch, to the island of Cyprus, then north to Perga on the coast, then north again to Iconium.

Everywhere they go what do they do? They go into the city, and go directly to the Jewish synagogue in the area. Remember there were small Jewish communities throughout the roman empire. And they would preach the gospel there. But more and more they are also preaching to the romans, and all non-Jews as well. Each place they go what happens? They win many to Christ, but face persecution, sometimes from the Jews, sometimes from the romans, and then they flee to a new area, and the cycle repeats.

I want to make it clear to you today something about all this. This historical record called the book of acts, or the acts of the apostles, could very easily be called the acts guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit and accomplished through the apostles. But that would be quite a mouth full wouldn’t it? What’s really going on under the surface of these controversies in the cities is the reality of spiritual warfare.

The Holy Spirit guides the apostles to a new city. The Holy Spirit speaks the gospel through them, and they win many to Christ. Demonic forces of evil respond by inspiring Jews and gentiles to persecute and attack and imprison and even physically assault the apostles. The crowds are divided between those inspired by the holy spirit and those inspired by demons. Then the holy spirit responds by helping the apostles escape prison, or win an influential person to Christ, and back and forth it goes. It’s fundamentally spiritual, it’s not random persecution or random soul winning, it’s God and the devil at work.

So in Acts 14 NIV we see the disciples arriving in Iconium. It says, “14 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel.”

Same pattern right? Same as every city. They preach, many are won to Christ, they are persecuted, they flee to a new area. Let’s continue.

Next they arrive in Lystra and Derbe, it says verse 8, “8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

11 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, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”

Do you know what this reminds me of? Jesus’ ministry. If you recall Jesus was constantly misunderstood by the crowds. Some people thought he was John the Baptist, some thought he was Elijah, some thought he was one of the prophets of old. They were confused. Even when Jesus was nailed to the cross, people thought that Elijah would come down from heaven to save him. Just way off, with everything.

The same occurs here, the Greeks and Romans in the area think they’re Greek gods! And they start trying to make sacrifices to them. Crazy.

Paul and Barnabas are just super disturbed by this, it says verse 14, “14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet 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.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.”

Notice how their presentation of the gospel changes depending on if they’re speaking to Jews in a synagogue or to gentiles. When they spoke to Jews they would always cite the old testament, talk about Moses and the prophets and so on. But when they speak to gentiles, who know nothing of Israel’s history, instead they make use of something called apologetics. They give a reasonable explanation of who God is. They tell of the one true God who made everything, and provides rain for their crops and food and fills their hearts with joy. Very interesting, right?

But trouble once again occurs, it says in verse 19, “19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.”

I’ve got to think that demonic forces gathered these Jews from the previous cities and brought them to Lystra for this purpose. The Spirit had helped them escape the stoning in Iconium. But Satan wasn’t done yet. Somehow these Jews convince the crowd to stone Paul. And they actually do succeed. I don’t know if you fully understand stoning. But basically people would grab stones about the size of their fist, some bigger or smaller I’m sure, and just pelt the person with hundreds of stones. This must’ve been extremely painful. Every hit would damage a muscle, or break a bone. Eventually they’d be hit in the head, and lose consciousness though, and they’d be pelted until they died.

They drag Paul’s body out of the city. Leave him there dead. But the disciples must’ve gathered around him later that day it says, and I’m sure they prayed, and Paul got up, just as if nothing had happened. See how Satan just can’t win. He thinks he finally got him, the stoning tactic worked, but no, God always has the final say, he just raises Paul from the dead. And he’s back. And he heads back into the city to complete his work there. Then the next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

It says in verse 21, “They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.”

So this journey of Paul and Barnabas, set up by the Holy Spirit, if you recall, was a huge success. They faced brutal persecution everywhere they went, but they won many many to Christ and set up churches in those cities with elders to help lead them.

But in conclusion today I want to draw your attention to one phrase from verse 22, ““We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” That is the truth brothers and sisters in Christ. We go through hardships, trials, difficulties and struggles. It says many. It doesn’t say a few or here and there, but many. Hardships are normal. Don’t think of them as strange. It’s our path as Christians. Which is truly rewalking the path of Christ. That’s what Paul and Barnabas are doing, rewalking the path of Christ in new parts of the world. That’s what we do here in Shiawassee county, rewalk the path of Christ, the road of suffering and victory, in new area to spread the gospel. That’s your mission. Keep doing it. That’s my call to you today.