IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS ACTS 13:44-14:7; 14:8-28

FEBRUARY 4th, 2018                                                                                   PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                                                              ACTS 13:44-14:7; 14:8-28

 

                                                            “THERE AND BACK AGAIN!

 

            Two weeks ago we set out with Paul and Barnabas as they were sent out by the Holy Spirit from Antioch of Syria on Paul's first mission trip.  (Acts 13:4)  Having proclaimed the Good News... and making many disciples, (Acts 14:21) all across Asia Minor, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. (14:26)   Paul and Barnabas have been there and back again!              Sounds familiar....      [DVD clip from the film, Return of the King, 3:02:20 – 3:02:52]

 

            This portion of Acts is the story of Paul and his traveling buddies, and how they come and go in the telling of it.  As we conclude Paul's first such adventure let's pause to recap a few highlights. 

 

            Having been sent from the multi-ethnic church in Antioch, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas go first to the island of Cyprus, hooking up with John Mark on the eastern port of Sala-mis.   Preaching from town to town, traveling east to west, they spread the word across the island. 

            The response was, (yawn), underwhelming.  Their only convert was Sergius Paulus, the gover-nor of Paphos, on the far end of the island.  Not to be deterred, they set sail for the port of Perga...

 

            Actually, John Mark was deterred.  He got wet feet, abandoned ship and sailed off to Jerusalem.  We don't know if his wet feet were from bathing in the Mediterranean, missing his momma, or the treacherous Taurus Mountains seen from Perga but John Mark said, nothing doing, and bravely fled...!  “When fear raised its ugly head, sir Marcus turned and bravely fled!  Bravely fled sir Marcus...!”

           

            So Barnabas and Paul hiked up to Antioch of Pisidia without him.  Ed informed us that all these cities named Antioch were named after one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antiochus...Nautiness... Maximus.  He was very naughty and plotted against Alexander and his young son...    Anyway....

            Paul preached a powerful sermon in the Antioch synagogue.   Luke informs us, that “the following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord.” 

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 13:44)

            It was the most phenomenal response to Paul's preaching to date! But not everyone agreed.  The Jewish leaders, jealous of their popularity, slandered Paul & Barnabas and ran them out of town.   In sync with Jesus' instructions, they shook the dust from their sandles and headed southeast to Iconium.  As Paul put it: “you have judged yourselves (spiritually dirty), unworthy of eternal life!” (Acts 13:46)

 

            “When the Gentiles heard this, they realized they'd been chosen and became believers... They then were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.  (13:48, 52)  God had shown them favor.  Their joy was multiplied as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Now they'd do what Paul and Barnabas were doing! 

                                                                                   

            On to Iconium, the largest city in Paul's first mission trip.  It was a major hub of the ancient world, found along the Via Sebaste, the imperial highway stretching from Ephesus to Syria.  Sebaste was the Greek equivalent of the Latin, Augusta, so named to honor Caesar Augustus.  As in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas headed first to the synagogue to preach to the Jews gathering for worship. It must've been powerful as “a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers”.   (Acts 14:1)

 

            Here we see an inspired methodology developing.  They preach first to the Jews then to the Gentiles and as they do so, they count on the Holy Spirit to confirm their message.  As Luke notes: “the Lord proved their message by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.”  (14:3)

                                                                                    -2-

 

            But as in Antioch, their words and actions trigger an adverse reaction among their adversaries who not only poison the minds of the Gentiles with lies and slander but seek to kill them.   Again, Paul and Barnabas exit stage left, and head down the Via Sebaste to the next  town, Lystra. 

 

            Lystra is a Roman colony, with no Jewish presence, so Paul and Barnabas start by relying on God's power to gain an audience, healing a cripple they encounter there. But there's a legend told by the Roman poet, Ovid, that states that ages ago the Greek gods, Zeus and Hermes, appeared in disguise and were treated with contempt by all in the city save for a poor blind man and his wife. As the legend went only the elderly couple were sparred and survived Zeus' wrath. 

 

            Seeing their power to heal, the Lystrian pagans assume Paul and Barnabas are these Greek gods in disguise. To calm them down and dissuade them, Paul quotes not scripture, as he does with the Jews, but points to the Creator's handiwork and goodness.  But before he can finish his message, which he'll later revisit in pagan Athens, the jealous Jews from the previous two cities show up, hurl stones at him, and leave him for dead.  Miraculously he survives, a fact that has a profound impact on the pagans, a few of whom come to faith, as we're told that a group of disciples gathered around him. (Acts 14:20)     Among them was a young man named, Timothy, a fact Luke alludes to later when he tells us that “Paul returned to...Lystra where there was a young disciple named, Timothy.” (Acts 16:1)  This young man will be Paul's protege', recipient of his letters and play a major role in the early church.  

 

            Paul and Barnabas leave the next day, heading down the Via Sebaste to another Roman colony where they have some success, “making many disciples there in Derbe”  (Acts 14:21)  So in spite of being booted out of three towns, back to back, the Jesus movement has taken root in all four cities! 

                                                                                   

            Luke then tells us of an amazing decision they apparently made there in Derbe: 'Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisida, where they strengthened the believers.'

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 14:21-22)

            Look at the map.  Look how close they are to Paul's home town of Tarsus and to their home church in Antioch of Syria.  They could've finished the loop very easily but instead, they retrace their steps and head straight back into the hornet's nest where they were just attacked!  They do so, in spite of the danger, because they know these infant Christians need discipling.  And so, thats what they do, encouraging them to continue in the faith, reminding them to endure suffering for the sake of Christ and his gospel.  Only after appointing elders with prayer and fasting do they end their eventful first missionary trip by heading back to their home church by way of Perga and Attalia. 

 

            Their methodolgy, or strategy for winning others to Christ, has three key elements.  First, they always go to the synagogues first.  As Paul puts it, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to (the) Jews...and (afterwards) we'll offer it to the Gentiles.”  (Acts 13:46)

 

            They go first to their peers, those they have the most in common with.  They start on familiar ground.  Eventually, they also offer it to those whose ways are foreign to them.  Not a bad approach.  Start by witnessing to those you know or have common ground and then move on to engage those you don't.  That was how God led us here, too.  We'd been offering the Alpha Course for years before we began sending teams abroad.  Most invite friends & family to Alpha before reaching out to others...

 

            Second, Paul follows Jesus' lead, helping people move from the crowd to the core.  Jesus spoke to and loved on those in the crowds that came out to check him out, to observe.  They were...observers. 

                                                                                    -3-

            Likewise, Luke tells us a huge crowd “turned out to hear Paul and Barnabas preach the word of the Lord”  (Acts 13:44)  They were curious.   They came to observe.  From that crowd some became interested. They moved from observers to seekers.  They recognized there was something missing...and the message they heard resonated with them.  They came seeking.  Nicodemus was such a seeker.  He realized Jesus possessed something he lacked and he sought Jesus out.  So did Nathaniel, asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  And his friend, Phillip's response?  “Come and see!”

                                                                                                                                    (John 1:46-47)

            So it was with Tim.  He'd heard some things that made him curious.  His wife Crystal and he wound up on an Alpha Course.  They came to see.  They observed for a bit & began seeking in earnest.                                                                                                              

            Some such seekers start to embrace the truth of the gospel and move from seekers to believers. When the Gentile-seekers in Antioch heard that Paul had been sent as a light to the Gentiles, they were thankful for the Lord's message (of grace) and...became believers.  (Acts 13:48)  

 

            The reason Paul & Barnabas headed back into the hornet's nest was to help these new believers move from mere believers to committed followers, and true followers are those living out Jesus' com-mand to be disciple-makers. These were those that Paul and Barnabas appointed as elders in every church.  (Acts 14:23)  Their job would be to further instruct and strengthen others to become disciple-makers like them, and Paul and Barnabas before them.   Each of us are called to duplicate ourselves. 

            {“Piotr, a 20 year old Russian soldier, came to faith thru another soldier.  The Communist Russian soldiers were not only converted but became missionaries in the Underground Church.” }

            That's our mission here: to welcome the observer, encourage the seeker, strengthen the believer, equip Jesus' followers to become disciple-makers. Paul and Barnabas helped the Jesus' movement catch fire in Asia Minor and we seek to do the same here, helping people move from the crowd to the core! 

 

            Third, they relied on the presence & power of the Holy Spirit. The signs & wonders mentioned here are not isolated events but are representative of their dependence on the Spirit to impact the lives they're witnessing to with the very power of God, the same power in which Jesus healed cripples and cast out demons, and removed the scales from Saul's eyes.  That same power dwells in the heart of every believer and is the means by which “the Lord (Jesus) proves (our) message is true, by giving (us) power to do miraculous signs and wonders.”  (Acts 14:3) 

 

            We access that power through our faith in Jesus and through prayer!  Remember the hobbits?  Frodo leaves his friend, Sam, with some wise words.   Check it out...

            [DVD clip from Return of the King; 3:10:50 – 3:11:50]

            You have to be whole.  That's what we're seeking after isn't it?  We observe others who are becoming whole and we realize how much we need that too, so we move from observers to believers.

 

            But its one thing to believe its true and another to actively follow The Way of Jesus.  If we're wise, we keep moving inward, and become active followers, which is what the word, 'Christian', really means.  As we do, his spirit fills us with joy, the joy of giving him away.  By following him, you have so much to enjoy and to be...and to do.  You're part in Jesus' story...will go on.  And those who really grasp it seek to pass it along, to help others move in it, trusting his Spirit to transform us into disciple-makers.  It's a feeling of coming home...to Jesus.  As Sam says, I'm back!

 

            I pray that like the apostles in Iconium or in Antioch, you may come “to stay here a long time, boldly sharing with others the grace of the Lord, and that the Lord may prove that message is ab-solutely true, by giving you, by giving us, the power to miraculous signs and wonders!”  (Acts 14:3)