In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Barnabas flee persecution when they learn that both Jews and Gentiles in Iconium want to kill them. They come across a man who has been lame from birth and Paul tells him to stand up. When he does, the people of Lystra think that Paul and Barnabas are gods. The priest of Zeus tries to offer sacrifices to them and they quickly tell everyone that they are men just like everyone else there. (Acts 14:8-18)
The reason the people of Lystra think Paul and Barnabas are gods is because they don’t know any better. They have never heard the good news of the Gospel. Their polytheistic society didn’t know that there is only one true God and that these men were simply messengers. But they misunderstood the signs and wonders that God used to validate their message (Acts 14:3) and acted accordingly.
Shortly after this, the Jews of Iconia and Antioch come to Lystra and stone Paul, leaving him for dead. The Believers gather around him and he gets up and leaves for Derbe the next day with Barnabas. Later, they circled back and built up the churches and appointed local elders in the churches.
Now, I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but miraculous signs and wonders like Dr. Luke describes here aren’t observed as much these days — at least in Western society. I believe that God still operates in the miraculous realm. But most of the “big stuff” happens on the mission field, on the cutting edge of the mission movement where God uses the signs and wonders to draw attention and validate His message as He did in the book of Acts.
It’s very important to note that Jesus warned against making too much of the miraculous. In fact, in one of the scariest passages of Scripture, Jesus says that knowing Him is more important than commanding demons (Luke 10:20) and “doing the deal” (Matthew 7:21-23).
So the question is, do you know Him? If not, I’d love to introduce you. Drop me a line and let’s talk!
As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.
Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)
As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.
Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!
How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.
But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?
The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.
When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!
In today’s Bible reading, King Herod kills James and holds Peter in jail, ready to present Peter to the Jewish leaders after the Passover. Herod assigns four squads of Roman soldiers to guard Peter. This might seem to be an overkill. Why would King Herod assign sixteen Roman soldiers to guard an unarmed, unassuming peasant? Well, there was the case of the apostles’ deliverance from captivity in Acts 5:17–26. Obviously, Herod believed there was something special about Peter and he wanted four soldiers at a time, in rotating shifts, to keep their eye on him 24/7.
Peter didn’t know what awaited him. But he had eyes to see how many soldiers were assigned to him. Wasn’t he worried? Wasn’t he concerned that this might be his last night before meeting a fate similar to James?
No. No, he wasn’t concerned in the least. In fact, Peter’s sleeping so peacefully, when the angel appeared in his cell, he had to strike Peter to wake him up. Peter was certain that God was in control. As a result, he rested comfortably that night.*
Whatever you’re going through, how sure are you that God is in control? Do you have incomprehensible peace? (Philippians 4:7) Take God at His Word. Know that He is absolutely in control, regardless of how things may look. Realize that despite how things may look, your world may not be falling apart. It’s falling into place.
*Note: Insomnia and anxiety can be brain chemical issues. Yes, God can fix brain chemistry without medicine, but there should be no more shame in taking medication for these issues than for taking any other kind of medicine. If you have anxiety and insomnia, pray. And seek medical attention if God sovereignly chooses to not heal you without it. I’ll address miraculous and medical therapy when we get to our reading in Acts 28. Stay tuned!
Several places throughout our reading through the book of Acts, including today’s Bible reading, various Apostles will stay in a certain area for an extended period of time. Today, it’s Barnabas and Saul who stay in Antioch for a year. (Acts 11:26) Why? Wasn’t it important for the Apostles to get as many converts as possible? Wouldn’t staying in one place for a while limit their reach?
It comes down to what is the purpose of a church. Is a church a place to make converts? Or is a church a place to make disciples? There is a huge difference between the two! Converts are people who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus didn’t charge His Disciples to make converts. He charged them to make Disciples. (Matthew 28:19) Nowhere in the Bible is anyone charged to make converts and immediately move on to the next place. And that’s why I have a problem with so many ministries that go into an area with an “evangelistic crusade” and quickly move on to the next city.
When I was a college student, Billy Graham visited our campus (UNC Chapel Hill) to deliver a series of lectures in Carmichael Auditorium. Carmichael is where the UNC Tarheels played basketball back in the day. His visit was billed as a lecture series, but it was essentially a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade. Being a college student with some well-connected Christian friends, I saw one of the keys to Graham’s success.
A year or so before Graham’s visit, students from several student ministries organized the event and worked behind the scenes to unite the ministries of Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Navigators. At Graham’s insistence, every person who responded to his altar call was to be contacted with a one-on-one visit within twenty-four hours of his/her decision. Why? Because Graham saw that disciples were more important than decision-makers. He wanted every decision-maker to become a disciple, someone who learned and became more like Jesus. It wasn’t enough to have several hundred or even several thousand people to make decisions to follow Jesus. Graham wanted people to follow and become like Jesus. And that can only happen when people who make decisions are connected with people who are already following Jesus.
New converts need to be fed and nurtured in their new faith. And for that to happen, they have to be plugged into discipleship ministries with other Believers who are growing in their faith, becoming more like Jesus. While learning about Jesus is important, becoming like Him is the most important thing.
What about you? Are you plugged into a discipleship ministry? Notice, I didn’t ask if you went to church. I didn’t ask if you went to Sunday School.
Going to church is a very important part of discipleship. So is Sunday School. So are small groups. But more important is being plugged in, getting to know — and being known by — other Believers on a deep level. And that can’t happen by just going to big worship services in a big church. It can’t happen by just going to small worship services in a small church. You have to connect.
Are you connected?
For a good, First Century Jew, I’m sure there was not much more detestable than going into the home of a Gentile. But in today’s Bible reading, Peter did just that.
Both Peter and Cornelius had a vision from God and both acted on what they heard. Cornelius sent men to where Peter was and Peter had to go with them to Cornelius’ home. But Peter’s vision — given three times — emphasized that what God has made clean is clean, and you aren’t to question it. So when invited, Peter went.
A little background: Cornelius is called a Centurion. A Roman Centurion was a commander in the Roman Army. One hundred Roman soldiers reported to him. So can you imagine the influence that he had for the cause of Jesus Christ when he was saved?
Cornelius’ men escorted Peter and some other men to Cornelius’ home. When Peter entered, Cornelius bowed to worship Peter and was quickly rebuked; Peter wanted him to realize that he was no different than any other man. (Acts 10:26) But can you imagine what it looked like for a Roman Centurion to bow down before a Jew? Wow!
As Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and everyone else who had gathered in Cornelius’ home. (Acts 10:44) Dr. Luke doesn’t tell us how many there were. He doesn’t tell us if it was just Cornelius’ family, or maybe there was a group of his soldiers, too. Regardless, everyone there responded to the move of the Holy Spirit, was saved and baptized.
Those who were saved asked Peter to stay for a few days. I’m sure they wanted to hear more. If they were soldiers, I’m sure they had a lot of Gentile-based questions for this Jew. And I’m sure that seeing Gentiles brought to faith in Christ caused Peter to ask a lot of questions, more of himself and God than the Gentiles who had just been saved.
God wants us to tell other people about Jesus. He has no other plan to reach the lost. Think about that! If anyone is to be saved, they have to have contact with a Christian who can explain the Gospel message to them. And like Peter, we must be willing to go, regardless of where that is. And regardless of whom. Today’s Bible reading makes it clear that the Gospel message is for all kinds of people.
Are you ready to share your faith with anyone anywhere? If you’re not sure of what the Gospel message is and how to explain it to someone else, take a look at this video. Then you’ll have a guide for a Gospel conversation with someone.