How Two Early Church Leaders Escaped Certain Death, Emerging None the Worse for the Wear
Paul and Barnabas Escape Death, Emerge Triumphant
(Acts chapter 14, verses 14–28)
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When we last concluded our study of Acts chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas had entered the city of Lystra and had preached the Word in the local synagogue. The people present had received with gratitude the salvation of Christ, but the Gentiles of that city were very pagan in their religious practices. The “priest of the Temple of Zeus” had brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates to offer sacrifices to the pair of preachers. As I wrote last week, this could well have been a considerable temptation to them both. They could have set up a Christian church, and had the whole town eating right out of their hands if they wanted to. In a way, it could have been an excellent opportunity to turn the entire town to Christ. Except that this would have been the wrong way to go about it when compared to what the Bible teaches (see Isaiah 44: 17).
The Apostles Paul and Barnabas Set a Great Example
It was Christ who was to be worshiped and not themselves. Indeed, when they realized what was occurring — keep in mind it was their first day in that city, having no prior knowledge of it as far as I know — the scene before them upset Paul and Barnabas a great deal. If nothing else, it proves that these two men were preachers of integrity because they lived and breathed it. This is the kind of thing that can happen when one is led by the Holy Spirit rather than by their minds. To find out just how upset they became, let’s take up where we left off last week, beginning at verse 14:
Part One of This Week’s Study Verses
“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.” (Acts 14, verses 14–18)
Paul, Barnabas, and Difficult Crowd
In verses 14 and 15, Paul and Barnabas are shouting above the crowd that there is only one true God. They even tore their clothes in their duress! “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.” In verses 17 and 18, they are asking the crowd to believe in — at the very least — the true God who brings the sun, the rain, the crops and the seasons. ‘If you must pollute the message of Christ with your idols, then at least show some pure belief in the Father who sent Him!’ This was the essence of what Paul and Barnabas were trying to say to the crowd. “18) Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.” To sum it up, Paul and Barnabas had a tough crowd on their hands. They were having a difficult day at the office, that’s for sure. But as we continue this week’s study beginning at verse 19, their day was about to get so much worse.
Part Two of This Week’s Study Verses
“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. 20) But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. 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.” (Acts 14, verses 19–22)
Paul and Barnabas Emulate Two of the Apostles
Paul’s and Barnabas’ trolls of that day, the Jewish temple authorities from the two cities where they had just come from, caught up with them at right about this time. Remember from last week’s study, verses 5–7, where Paul and Barnabas had to flee Iconium to keep from getting killed? It was those very people who showed up unannounced and stirred up some of the Jews that Paul and Barnabas had just converted earlier that day, causing them to turn against them. “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.” Paul may not have been dead, but he was certainly close to it. But the disciples gathered around him, praying over his body continuously for an undetermined amount of time, that detail being lost in the mists of history. By being given up for dead, only to walk back into the city later that same day, Paul emulated Christ while Barnabas emulated the apostle John, the disciple who stayed with Jesus’ mother while Jesus suffered and died on the cross.
The Price of Entry Into God’s Kingdom Was Paid by Their Suffering
“The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.” I find it noteworthy that there was no bitterness on Paul’s part toward Barnabas with regard to his stoning the day before. Barnabas had evidently been spared from the majority of the stoning, but he was bruised and bleeding enough to be unable to help protect Paul from the mob of his Jewish ‘brethren’. Still, Paul didn’t hold it against him, or at the very least had settled any differences he may have had with Barnabas well before they left on their journey to Derbe. “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 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.”
There Has Always Been a Price to be Paid for Taking a Stand
Paul and Barnabas felt compelled to return to the cities they had most recently visited, to tell the congregations there how Paul’s life was spared, and to greatly encourage them. Let’s not forget this was a time of wholesale persecution of Christians and all things having to do with the Gospel. It took a lot of guts to express belief in Christ and openly live one’s faith back then, just like it took a lot of guts for Blacks and white folks to march together for civil rights and racial equality in the 1950’s and 1960’s here in America. There is a price to be paid for taking a public stand in favor of an unpopular idea, or traditional religion like Christianity.
Christianity Entails Accountability
The problem many have with Christianity is that it entails an ongoing relationship with the Son of God. So what’s so bad about that? It demands accountability on the part of the believer while insisting that we adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately for some, the whole idea of a Power greater than themselves is more than they can stomach. Which, by extension, makes them extremely self-centered individuals. Which is why the religious establishment of the time hated Christians so much. They were Jews competing with Jewish dogma, and they were winning at every turn. And now, let’s conclude this week’s study, beginning at verse 23.
Part Three of This Week’s Study Verses
“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.” (Acts 14, verses 23–28)
The Great Perception of Paul and Barnabas, and Why God Chose Them
As we can see in verse 23, Paul and Barnabas knew that, once they left Lystra and Iconium a second time, it was doubtful as to when they would be able to return. And so, after considerable prayer and fasting, they “committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust”. They put their trust in the elders they appointed, sure enough, but Paul and Barnabas put their ultimate trust in God, knowing He would see them through as time went on. To view this another way, Paul and Barnabas knew when to move on. They were both very perceptive individuals of great discretion, and I think that’s the most likely reason God chose them both.
The Enrichment and Empowerment of the Early Church Through Paul and Barnabas
“From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them….” Antioch, which was situated several hundred miles north of Jerusalem, became the northern base of Christianity in the early days of the Church. And so all that had happened to Paul and Barnabas, on what has become known as Paul’s first missionary journey, was disseminated and passed on by word of mouth there at Antioch. The Church was greatly enriched and empowered by Paul’s and Barnabas’ stories of leading others to salvation while barely escaping death themselves. In that same vein, I hope to do the same with all my readers, enriching and empowering them and their lives as we all learn together to live better for Christ. And next week, we’ll get started on chapter 15 in our ongoing studies of the writings of the apostle Luke.
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