We have all been in a situation where you didn’t feel welcome by others. Either you were made fun of, or others were making your life difficult, or somehow those around you just gave you the sense you were not wanted. It’s not something any of us enjoys going through is it? It can happen at work, at school, on the bus, in a restaurant, or sitting at the DMV office (one of my favorite places).
It can even happen at church. Sometimes it can be Christians that make you feel unwelcome, as if you’re not wanted or don’t belong. When that happens, we need to remember that’s not Jesus. That’s people, it’s human nature.
Paul and Barnabas were simply preaching and teaching in Pisidia and they were suddenly made to feel unwelcome. The Gentiles were loving the message of grace, mercy, and salvation from Jesus. They were getting saved and it was a beautiful and wonderful time of love and fellowship!
Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.
But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
After this incredible time of God doing His work among the Gentiles, suddenly Paul and Barnabas are kicked out! But even in this time of persecution, they knew God had been working to make new believers and they glorified God: “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
So now Paul and Barnabas have arrived in Iconium to preach there after being driven out of Pisidia and we start Chapter 14.
Vs 1 Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.
Lots of folks getting saved by Jesus!
Vs 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.
More of that same kind of persecution they suffered back in Chapter 13. These guys are suffering for Jesus.
Vs 3-6 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.
I love that they were “speaking boldly in the Lord”. They were preaching with NO FEAR. They were not worried about what people thought, or what they would do to them, or who they would offend. The Bible tells us that the Truth is offensive.
As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” ~Romans 9:33
To whom shall I speak and give warning, That they may hear? Indeed their ear is uncircumcised, And they cannot give heed. Behold, the word of the LORD is a reproach to them; They have no delight in it. ~Jeremiah 6:10
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
~1 Corinthians 1:18-24
Acts 14:6 also tells us that God Himself “was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” God was doing incredible miracles through these simple preachers.
Vs 7-10 And they were preaching the gospel there. And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.
Is God doing miracles today? Absolutely! Sometimes, they are not the miracles we recognize. A pastor friend had a heart attack this morning and is in the hospital. Where is the miracle in that? He lived. He is now surrounded by his family. He has more time and opportunity to glorify God with his life.
The fact that I have been spared from an eternity in hell by the death of Jesus on the cross is a miracle in itself. That is miraculous mercy from God. Another miracle: I am made clean and pure by my Savior’s shed bled and get to spend eternity in heaven. That is miraculous grace from God.
Vs 11-18 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.
As people, we love heroes. We idolize celebrities. How many times have we heard about that movie being filmed in town and rushed down to see if we could catch a glimpse of one of the movie stars? Or you’ve asked for an autograph? Or maybe you’ve had your picture taken with him/her so you can show it to your friends as proof that you really were in the presence of Greatness.
The people of Lycaonia already worshipped a variety of gods that hadn’t done a single miracle for them. Suddenly they see these preachers show up and teach about a God they’ve never heard of, and they perform physical miracles right in front of them. It’s like the newest show! We’ve seen how consumers today go crazy over the newest Marvel Comics superhero movie. The Lycaonians are working themselves into a frenzy after seeing Paul and Barnabas, and they begin to try to worship them as gods. In all their humility and love for Christ, the Apostles could just barely keep the people from worshipping them.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
This is something we’ve all done. OK, maybe you or I haven’t worshipped a stone idol. But we’ve all worshipped a god other than the Lord in one form or another. We elevate that other thing to such a high place of importance, it becomes our focus. Admit it.
Maybe we’ve worshipped or idolized a movie star. Or we’ve elevated our job position or paycheck to a status of idolization. We worship our body shape and are focused on making sure it’s the best possible (in our own minds). I know people that are so concerned with “image” that it affects virtually everything they do.
God asks that we give up those things, and instead focus on glorifying Him.
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. ~Psalm 115:1
Sometimes our idols are our own sin. That thing you do or that you love that you just can’t give up.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. ~Colossians 3:5
When God tells us to put those things “to death”, He means we need to give them up. And maybe not just one time, but over, and over, and over again.
Vs 19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
Isn’t it amazing that this frenzied crowd can go from idolizing the Apostles to stoning them to death? Our hearts are so fickle. We all do that from time to time. I have been driving along the freeway in my truck listening to incredible worship music and loving God. Without warning, someone cut me off to make the freeway exit and I’ve turned into an angry, fire-breathing monster wanting to run them off the road.
Look at what the Israelites did in Exodus 32:1-4
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
Now look at Aaron’s response in Exodus 32:21-24
And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”
Aaron actually tells Moses that he threw the gold into the fire and this gold calf idol popped out. Lame huh? But how often we have all made a really lame excuse for our sin. Or we tried to hide the sin when it was obvious to everyone around us.
Vs 20-22 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples are still “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” that we saw in the last chapter. They realize and accept that they are called to go through many difficulties for Jesus.
Vs 23-28 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
I love that God is working in these men. I love that God is working in you and me. Let’s allow Him to continue His work in us by setting aside our idols and “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'”
Other great resources:
The Strange and Wonderful Miracle of Feeling Loved by God