Courage for the Long Haul (Acts 14:1-28)
When we think of heroes, we think of people who have adrenaline courage. For example, one of the flight attendants from Asiana Flight 214 that crash-landed in San Francisco about 3 weeks ago, has been hailed as a hero. “I wasn’t really thinking, but my body started carrying out the steps needed for an evacuation,” head attendant Lee Yoon-hye, 40, said. “I was only thinking about rescuing the next passenger.”
I am not minimizing adrenaline courage, but most of life requires another kind of courage: courage for the long haul. How do I keep at a job where I’m unhappy? How do I keep staying single when I am tempted to compromise? How do I persevere in a long season of trial or in a tough marriage? How do I keep forgiving someone when I’ve been so hurt by them? For all these things we need courage for the long haul. For those us serving or doing any kind of ministry or just to even live life, there is one quality that the Lord seems to commend over and over again. It is the principle of the stamp. Do you know what’s amazing about a stamp? “It sticks to one thing until it gets to its destination.” And we are not good at that.
With the ever-growing need for instant gratification, we are finding more and more people without courage for the long haul. We have more and more people who bail out of jobs, marriages, ministry and even life. Sometimes, like Sarah, we look for a Hagar to speed up the fulfillment of a promise, yet to create more Ishmaels. Sometimes, like Esau, we reach for a bowl of instant gratification, instead of waiting for a sumptuous feast from you. Sometimes, like Samson, we go out in our strength, not in God’s, and that never works well for us.
We need something deeper than just for a moment. We need something to overwhelm our fears. We need courage for the long haul. In the book of Acts, we have been watching God pull in some nobodies into His heart, transform them with the Gospel of grace and push them out to pull others in for God to do the same.
We have watched the first missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, pushed out by God to go on their first missionary journey. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing. When they started in Paphos they finally had a convert, but only after a fierce battle with a wizard. In brave obedience they set sail for Asia Minor, but it was all too much for John Mark, who returned home. In Pisidian Antioch they again ministered the Word with great effect (13:42–52), which brought great persecution, so that finally they shook the dust off their feet and headed for Iconium. In the midst of opposition and persecution, the gospel continued to go and grow and they stuck with it.
Sometimes we think, “Ok I’m in valley right now…but Lord, I learned my lesson. Hallelujah. When I get out of this, it’s going to be great!” I persevered, so now give me the fruit! Fruit always comes from perseverance, but fruit always grows in the valleys and God is in the business of not just bearing fruit for seasons, but fruit for a lifetime. The big idea for today is:
Lasting fruit of God-glorifying ministry is borne through courage for the long haul.
- Despite good and bad fruit (vv.1-7)
They made it to Iconium and they continue the same pattern: The Gospel to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. There was good fruit as many believed, both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. But, “unbelieving Jews,” which literally reads “Jews who refused to believe,” or “disobedient” show up and try to sabotage the ministry. By the way, the NT equates unbelief in the Gospel to disobedience. Faith without works is dead. Faith and obedience go together just like unbelief and disobedience. Unbelief is a poison that leads others astray. The Jews spread lies about the Christians and stir up the Gentiles against the new believers as well as Paul and Barnabas.
In the middle of wheat, Satan will always sow tares. I have shared that our church grew from 19 to 17 one year. I really do believe we grew, perhaps not in number, but certainly in depth. But that growth in depth happened while we had faced some challenges, not after or before. I had no idea what I was doing and I still don’t, but there will always be bad fruit among the good.
And it is easy to get caught up in where the fruit is and lose focus, but look at v.3. So there is strong resistance and opposition, but they “remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” For some of us, a little word of criticism knocks us down for a month. But these guys stick to it. This means they could have stayed several months. Nothing is going to stop them until they get kicked out. It reminds of Billy Sunday, baseball player for the White Sox, turned evangelist in the early 1900s, used to say about preaching against sin: “Listen, I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist, I’ve butt it as long as I’ve got a head, and I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old, fistless, footless, and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to [hell].”
What amazing determination and tenacity! That is courage for the long haul. We need that. Notice they weren’t preaching just against sin, but for the Gospel of grace, called here “the Word of His grace,” a beautiful definition of what the Gospel is about. They persevere and there’s fruit! Miracles are happening. Then what? More opposition in vv.4-7. By the way, they are called “apostles.” Paul is called an apostle in the truest sense of the word, but Barnabas is an apostle in the more general sense, meaning “messengers.” But notice good fruit. Bad fruit. It’s a package deal. But being bold doesn’t mean being foolish. So they used discernment to know when to stay and when to leave. Sometimes it takes more courage to stay than to leave and vice versa. We need wisdom. So they stayed earlier and left in this new instance.
When my family came to Christ, so many people were overjoyed, except church leaders and people in our own family. Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) right? The Gospel will always polarize people. Not everyone will get saved. Here is a good application for us. Don’t compare your fruit with other’s fruit.
The Lord continues to rebuke me with “You cannot compare your ministry with someone else’s.” I look at the good fruit and bad fruit of others to give me my sense of self-worth and often fall into the “Compare and Despair,” syndrome. Aslan, in Narnia says to one of the characters, “’I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.” Remember Jesus reinstated Peter for service in John 21? Jesus told him, “You’re gonna die Peter…for me.” “Oh ok. Well, what about him?” he asks, pointing to John. Jesus rebukes him basically saying, “What does that have to do with you? You follow me.” You are always comparing yourself with others Peter! You follow me. Yes, you are 30 and still figuring out your life and career and your friend’s cousin is 22 and got a job out of college. And you found that out on facebook and now you’re devastated. Jesus says, “What does that have to do with you? You follow me. Let the Gospel give you courage for your story.” And help others connect their lives to His story.
Don’t compare your fruit with other’s fruit. Stop fruit inspecting and start abiding in the vine. There will always be good fruit with the bad. Some bad churches will bear good fruit and some good churches will bear bad fruit. Let God deal with how that works and let us focus on sticking to Him because God-glorifying ministry is always borne with courage for the long haul. Secondly,
II. Despite temptations of Glory (vv.8-18).
They arrive in Lystra, which was about eighteen miles from Iconium and the home of Timothy and his family (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5). They may have been saved during this visit by the apostle. No synagogue is mentioned, meaning the Jewish population was minimal, but that didn’t stop them. Like Acts 3 with Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas meet another lame man from birth. There is a lot of parallel language used here from both stories. It confirms again that the same Spirit that worked then to bring the Gospel to the Jews is now working to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.
He starts walking. It’s a miracle! Now all of these people are going to get saved right? It’s ripe harvest! Actually quite the opposite. The crowds think their gods have come in the flesh. Apparently, according to a Roman poet Ovid in AD 17, there was a local legend that once Zeus (the father of the gods) and his son Hermes (the messenger God) once visited the region as human beings. No one provided them hospitality except an elderly couple. Later the gods rewarded them, but destroyed by flood the homes which would not take then in.
There is a strong possibility the people did not want to make the same mistake again. It is intriguing that they called Barnabas Zeus. Perhaps he was taller and looked more imposing than Paul. Since Paul is the preacher, he was called the messenger god of Hermes. It gets worse as a priest of Zeus comes out to offer sacrifices. The plan was to put these wreathes around the “gods” and then have a parade to the temple and offer sacrifices. Remember they are not speaking in Greek, so Paul and Barnabas have no idea what is going on.
By the time they figure it out, they tear their clothes, as a symbol of grief and horror. It was an outward expression of what the person was feeling inwardly. This is the opposite reaction to how Herod reacted when people called him a god in Acts 12. They move out quickly to stop the proceedings and shout to them. “We” is emphatic here, meaning, “Us gods? Look at us. We are just like you! We are only bringing you “good news.” In other words, they are not the message, only the messengers. The present tense expresses an action in progress. They have always been messengers, nothing more and they will continue to be messengers.
Notice Paul change his evangelistic strategy depending on the audience. He used OT Scripture with the Jews and now an argument from creation to reach the pagan Gentiles. This tells us that there is no “one-size-fits-all” Gospel presentation. With the priest of Zeus standing there, the sacrificial bulls, the procession about to start and the temple in the distance, Paul calls them to turn from worthless idols to the living God. He is not very seeker sensitive is he?
Zeus is not the powerful father of the gods. He is powerless. It is the living God who made the heaven, the earth and the sea. He has been good to all of us, though we did not know him, giving us rain and fruitful seasons, satisfying our heart. We lived in ignorance, but now His kindness is to lead us to repentance. Paul didn’t get a chance to go further. Don’t you hate it when you share the Gospel with people and that makes them more devout in their current state than ever before? “Thank you for sharing that, I want to rededicate my heart to atheism!” This is what happens here in v.18.
Regardless of the people’s reaction, Paul and Barnabas are quick not to steal God’s glory. It would have been so easy for the apostles to rationalize, “We will accommodate these poor savages and then point them to God. This sure beats stoning!” They will not steal what belongs to God. This is why a lot of people don’t persevere. They make all of ministry and life about them. We need courage for the long haul by staying humble in prosperity. Pastor Zach Eswine in his book Sensing Jesus talks about our subtle temptations of wanting the glory for ourselves. In the big things we might be able to say “Glory to God!” But in little things, we sometimes don’t realize we are glory thieves in Take note of three things:
- I cannot be everywhere for all. We remind ourselves that instead of being Omnipresent, we can only be at one place at a time, and like Jesus, minister to one particular context at any one time. I’m convicted if this as I’ll take on too many preaching opportunities, try to do too many things, and either neglect the primary concerns in my life (God, marriage, family), or just go until I drop altogether.
- I cannot fix it all. We remind ourselves that instead of being Omnipotent, we cannot do everything at once, meaning we need to trust God to show us what is most necessary at any given time. Are you a control freak? Trying to control your spouse, your kids, your relationships, your time, your health, your finances, etc.? Surrendering to Jesus will teach us to live with things that we can neither fix nor control.
- I do not know it all. We remind ourselves that we are unable to know everything, which means there are certain things not meant for us to know. These will help keep us humble and dependent on God, lest we become proud and independent from God.
Pray for a heart that gives God glory. Pray for a heart that says as you wake up tomorrow, “Lord, I am a desperate person in need of help today. Please send helpers my way and give me the humility to accept it.” This is how we grow to give God the glory in our day-to-day lives. When we think otherwise, we cut Christ down to our size and squeeze him into the straitjacket of one of our little gods. That way he is safe and always at a distance. We are humans and make really bad gods and messiahs! May Paul’s declaration to the people in this area in the region of Galatia, be our prayer, gives us humility and helps us persevere knowing lasting fruit of God-glorifying ministry is borne through courage for the long haul…despite good and bad fruit and despite the temptations for glory and lastly:
- Despite experiences of deep suffering (vv.19-28).
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, here come the Jews again. This time the persecution has escalated into stoning. Look at the fickleness of people. This reminds us of the people of Israel who called Jesus King on Palm Sunday and executed Him a few days later. When Paul and Barnabas refused to steal the glory, the people, riled up by the Jews as well, resort to killing Paul, since he was the messenger. Luke does not record why Barnabas was not also attacked. Perhaps he managed to escape?
The would-be executioners left him for dead and dragged him outside the city. Battered and bruised, he can barely open his eyes. He looks up and what does he see? The fruit of his labor. Often we feel abandoned in our suffering, but the opposite is true, because of the Gospel. Jesus lost His Father’s hand in ultimate suffering, so we can have His hand in our suffering. They were most likely praying for him and if the Lord had taken him, to bury him. Lying there after getting stoned it would have been easy to think, “Time to quit. I’m not cut out for this. This is too crazy! I can’t handle it.”
I think Paul was miraculously healed as he just gets up like he just took a nap in v.20. I would have wanted some time to take a break, but not Paul. He gets up and walks 40 miles to Derbe. They keep going. Fruit follows perseverance once again. He even goes back to Lystra and Iconium! What does he tell the disciples? Persevere! This phrase here that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” means that this is the way of the cross before we get the crown. This is the Christian life. Jesus said, “In this life you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). If you say, “Not me, not now or not in this way,” to God, you will be disappointed!
Having taught them and encouraged by word and deed, they establish leadership for the churches. Through prayer and fasting, they carefully appoint elders in the churches and committed them to the Lord. It is His church, after all. They are not the message, just the messengers. They finally get home and everyone is anxious to hear what happened.
Notice their perspective: “they declared ALL THAT GOD HAD DONE WITH THEM.” God-glorifying ministry that was born through a courage for the long haul…despite good fruit and bad fruit, despite temptations of glory and despite deep suffering, they stayed and persevered. Now go, look at Paul. Look at Barnabas and do likewise. This is how most messages end, but I hope you know me well enough that is not how this message will end.
Later Paul says to the Galatians, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world!” (Gal. 6:14). Then he says, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). Paul’s source of courage came not by adrenaline courage, but by looking at the truly courageous one who came for cowardly people. He truly had courage for the long haul. People were fickle towards Him. People failed Him. His one disciples left him. They were cowards. But greater than David with a sling and a stone, He went forward to slay the true giant of our lives: sin. The devil had offered him many shortcuts to glory, but kept going on. The author of Hebrews in Heb. 11 says, “Remember David. Remember Abraham. Remember Moses.” And we would add, “Remember Paul. Remember Barnabas.” Remember these people, but Heb. 12 says, “But LOOK at Jesus.”
On the cross, the truly courageous one took the place of truly cowardly, glory-stealing ones. Paul got stoning and scars, but Jesus got death. God has come in human flesh. Our worst suffering, pain and failures are mere wounds because Jesus got the ultimate punishment. I can have courage as look at Jesus. He faced my ultimate fear—which is to lose God and Heaven and pay for all of my sin, including all the times I was cowardly and all the times I stole his glory and compared myself to others. So if he faced my ultimate nightmare, I know He will give courage to face my smaller ones.
Paul couldn’t finish his sermon at Lystra before he was persecuted. But we can continue to preach: “Friends, this is the true and living God. He was a master who became a servant, in true likeness of flesh. Unlike Zeus and Hermes, here is a Master who, if you fail him will forgive you. He too, did not receive hospitality when he came either, but instead of punishing his people for it, He was punished Himself and became homeless, abandoned on the cross, so we can be sure to have a home. This is the true and living God!”
May our hearts melt as we look at the Courageous One on the cross who take the place of us cowards so that we too, might keep going, keep serving, keep loving, keep studying, keep working and keep persevering in every aspect of our lives, until the Lord returns; as we know that lasting fruit of God-glorifying ministry is borne through courage for the long haul.
Hughes, R. K. (1996). Acts: the Church Afire. Preaching the Word (p. 182). Wheaton, IL:
Schnabel, Eckhard J. (2012). Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (603). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Taken from http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/2319780.Billy_Sunday accessed 26 July 2013.
From C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy. http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3294501-the-horse-and-his-boy
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.
Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world. The Bible Speaks Today (p. 231). Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.
Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 2: John, Acts. (p. 350). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Schnabel, E. (609).
Hughes, R. K. (187).
Adapted from http://booksaint.blogspot.com/2013/01/sensing-jesus-zach-eswine.html accessed 26 July 2013.
Hughes, R. K. (187).
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (326).