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The Spreading Flame - Series 4: Episode 3

Church planting in action

| Martin Charlesworth
Acts 14:1-20

Paul and Barnabas visit two different cities. Iconium has a synagogue and Paul uses the Old Testament to introduce Jesus. Lystra does not have a synagogue but is under the cultural influence of the Roman and Greek gods which Paul compares to the true God who sent Jesus. There are mixed responses with persecution from some of the Jews.

Paul and Barnabas visit two different cities. Iconium has a synagogue and Paul uses the Old Testament to introduce Jesus. Lystra does not have a synagogue but is under the cultural influence of the Roman and Greek gods which Paul compares to the true God who sent Jesus. There are mixed responses with persecution from some of the Jews.

Transcript

It is great to have you with us for Series 4 Episode 3, as we continue talking about this stage in the growth of the church that Luke has been describing in the book of Acts by which, the area of influence of the Gospel is growing significantly in the Gentile world.

Background and Introduction

You will remember that the story starts just in one location in Jerusalem and then spreads to Judea and Samaria; that’s Series 2. Then in Series 3 we see the beginning of non-Jews or Gentiles believing and forming churches, notably in a city called Antioch, Syrian Antioch, 600 km north of Jerusalem, where Paul and Barnabas were based. Now, in Series 4, we have seen how Paul and Barnabas have been commissioned and sent out into completely new areas, in a part of the world which we call Turkey today but which in those days they called Asia or Asia Minor, with several Roman provinces there.

We’ve seen Paul and Barnabas moving around. First, they went to the island of Cyprus, then we found them in a city called Pisidian Antioch where they had some success but lots of opposition as well. Now they move on. This episode is called ‘Church Planting in Action’. We see two examples of church planting in two other cities in this district, around the area where Pisidian Antioch is located. We are going to try and see what we can learn about this process of evangelism and church planting that was beginning to get established now as a pattern and it continues all the way through Paul’s ministry.

Iconium

We’re in Acts 14, and first of all we are going to be in a city called Iconium, which is about one 100 km east of the previous place where they were in the last episode - Pisidian Antioch. They travelled 100 km to find a major town which they knew to have a Jewish community in it, and this is important for the story. We are going to read Acts 14:1 - 7,

1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the Apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel

Acts 14:1-7, NIV

So, as they arrived in the city, Luke says very interestingly, that they went as usual to the synagogue. This is the first step. Go to the place where  you have got the best connection and the easiest way of explaining the Gospel. For Paul and Barnabas this was the Jewish synagogue. They had done it in Pisidian Antioch and in Cyprus, and we know that in Antioch, they would have been going to the synagogues first and then to the non-Jewish community amongst the believers there. It is a pattern that is developing; wherever there is a synagogue, Paul will go there first. He obviously spoke in other places too because it seems here that they spent a considerable time there and they communicated all across the city. But they started in the synagogue. There was a division in the synagogue. Some people believed in their message and other people began to be very suspicious of it and refuse the message and even try to turn other people away from this new found faith.

Evangelism

There are some notable aspects of this evangelistic campaign. Luke shows how different things came together to make it effective. They were communicating the Gospel powerfully, Acts 14:1,‘they spoke so effectively’. There is a really high-level communication. The gift of evangelism is a tremendous gift in the church and some people have the ability to explain clearly, effectively and powerfully about Christ, and Paul and Barnabas could certainly do that. They also spent quite a lot of time there, Acts 14: 3,‘they spent considerable time there’. They invested as much time as they could in the people of the city. Along with good communication and time, there were miraculous signs. It is quite clear that God enabled them to perform many miracles of healing, and this always draws attention to the Gospel. It is a way of demonstrating that God is real, that wakes people up to listen to the message. It is like a signpost to something else. That is what a healing miracle is in the way Luke writes about it. God was ‘enabling them to perform signs and wonders.’

The Outcome

The outcome was complicated because although a great number believed, the city was divided. Paul became something of a celebrity in the city; he made such a huge impact, as he had done in the previous city, in Pisidian Antioch, where the whole city was agitated about the message. The same thing happens here. This is very public communication but there is also a threat of violent persecution. There was a plot to mistreat Paul and Barnabas and even to stone them. Now that’s very sinister - stoning them to death. Paul realised that his life was on the line and so, they moved on quickly, having established a community of faith. Some believers had gathered. This is exactly what happened in the previous city; it happens again here. They stay as long as they can and they just have to go because the pressure becomes too great. There is no point staying when you’re going to risk your life, when you’ve got so many other places to go to. They made the judgement that they needed to move on. Jesus had said, in Matthew 10, when he commissioned the Twelve to go round the cities of Israel, that there were times when they needed to move on, and keep moving if people weren’t receiving the message, or if there was a threat to their lives.

Lystra

So, they move on to another place. But this is different. There is no reference here to a Jewish synagogue in Lystra so they didn’t have the Jewish framework to start with. It’s about 50 km away from the previous town, Iconium. ;They started communicating in a rather different way with a very interesting outcome. This was pagan Roman Empire culture, real paganism here that they were encountering. Let us find out what happens as we read Acts 14:8 - 20:

8 In Lystra there was a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 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. 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.

Acts 14:14-20, NIV

There is never a dull moment in the book of Acts, that is one thing for certain! What an extraordinary story. When they arrive in the town of Lystra, it appears that Paul, because he didn’t have the synagogue, would have gone into the marketplaces or the public squares, and started speaking about Jesus. He probably spoke about Jesus being the true God and the temples having false gods in them.

Healing

The thing that triggered the big response was a miracle. A lame man, who had been lame from birth, was suddenly healed and rose up and walked. That was truly astonishing! This has happened already in the book of Acts. It has been documented by Luke that Peter performed almost an identical miracle in Jerusalem at the Beautiful Gate, right in the very early days of the Church, as recorded in Acts 3. It was something very dramatic because beggars who were lame were very common all over the world in those days. They would beg in strategic places in cities so, this man would probably have been very well known and suddenly he’s healed.

The Outcome

This had such a dramatic impact on the crowd that, being followers of the Roman and Greek religion, which had many gods, they literally thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods coming to them in human form. They were so impressed by an outstanding miracle that they started naming them after their gods. This was a very unusual occurrence. Barnabas, they called Zeus. the king of the gods, the father of the family of gods for Greeks. The Romans knew Zeus as Jupiter - the most important of all the gods. They thought that Barnabas was the leader of the team. and they called Paul, Hermes, a son of Zeus and his job was to be a messenger for the gods. They thought that Paul was the messenger because he was the main speaker. So, they said, “You must be Hermes, Barnabas you must be Zeus. You’re gods. Nobody else can perform miracles like this. We’ve seen something incredible with our own eyes!” I don’t how this would have worked out, but the whole crowd became so excited that the priest of the temple of Zeus, a temple just outside the city, as Luke states here, thought that he needed to do something about this. He thought, “Right, we will make a sacrifice to these new gods. We are not going to make a sacrifice to the statue in the temple; we are going to make a sacrifice to these living gods because they have actually come to live here. They have come to visit us!” He brought bulls to make a sacrifice and wreaths to give them as a sign of honour.

This was such a shock to Paul and Barnabas. It was the last thing they wanted. They had already said, “We’re preaching in the name of Jesus. He is the one who heals. We’re just his agents; we’re just his representatives.” But no, the crowd wanted to perform a sacrifice, not in the temple, but right there on the street in the public place, probably in the market square. Paul and Barnabas had to intervene very quickly, rushing into the crowd saying, “Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! No, we can’t have this sacrifice. You can’t do this. This is not the right understanding of what’s going on. It’s the power of Jesus that has made these things happen. Your gods are idols. They are false gods. There is a true God. It is Jesus. He is the creator. God created the earth and the heaven. Look at the way the earth works and look at the harvest cycle. That comes from God. Now Jesus has come from God and this healing comes from him and salvation comes from Jesus.” Paul got very animated in the crowd trying to stop them performing this ceremony of sacrifice.

The Crowd Changes

This is a very intense situation. Emotions are running high. Just as it is at a very intense point; Paul is debating with them and it is not clear entirely whether the crowd was going to accept that they’re not gods. Luke tells us that, at that very moment everything changes. Some Jews came from the other towns he had been in, who are completely against Paul. They’ve been following Paul along the road, and they arrived in town with the definite intention of discrediting Paul and Barnabas. They saw what was going on in the crowd and the possible sacrifice; they saw this hero worship, this attempt to say that Barnabas and Paul were Greek gods and they challenged all that. They said, “You don’t need to believe these people; they’re leading you astray; they just want to make money out of it; they’re deluded.” I don’t know what they said exactly, but they challenged everything. The crowd’s mood changed. Isn’t it amazing how crowds can change their opinion very quickly? You see that in a sports stadium ;or at political rallies or in public places in extreme events. The mood of a crowd can change. It is almost like the wind blowing through the crowd. That is exactly what happens here. Suddenly people are going, “Hang on a minute. This isn’t so good after all.” They heard horrible things and accusations being said about Paul and Barnabas. So, they turned against them and the Jewish visitors were encouraging them to pick up stones and start stoning Paul. They took him out of the city and started throwing stones at him and he fell down on the ground and they thought he had died. They went back into the city.

But the new believers in Jesus gathered round him and amazingly he was okay, injured no doubt, but certainly not seriously injured, certainly not dead. He got back up and went back into the city. There is a man of courage and conviction. The next day they felt it was right to leave, in order that there wasn’t another big confrontation. This is dramatic, isn’t it? This is an amazing story. You never quite know what is going to happen next because things change so very quickly.

Reflections

There are things we can learn from this story. A story that is 2000 years old but it has some principles that we can learn from. Here is the first thing that I want to put to you as we come to our time of reflection and think about what we can gain from this. There are different evangelistic strategies according to the people you’re trying to reach. This applies to all of us. There are different ways of communicating about Jesus and we have to adapt our way of communicating to the people we are talking to. Paul had two very different strategies, even in this passage. When he went into the synagogue in Iconium, he referred back to the texts of the Old Testament in detail. He quoted many different verses and prophecies in the Old Testament. He had a very detailed, biblical discussion with the Jews because that was the way they thought; that was what they knew; that is what they had studied. When he got to Lystra, there was no synagogue. We have no reference to any Jewish population here. He went out in the streets and he probably talked about the fact there is one true God, Jesus Christ, rather than all these other gods and other witchcraft, occultism and superstition found in their culture. Then he performed miracles, particularly a dramatic miracle. He preached more about the difference between Jesus and the gods that existed in their culture. That’s a very different approach from the way he approached the Jews, where he went back and based everything on the Old Testament. There are different ways of communicating and we need to learn from this. I wonder how this applies to you. There are different ways of communicating with your family members than with people you don’t know. You have got an established relationship with your family members and it is a more sensitive form of communication to talk to your family members who aren’t believers. If you talk to people who know about Christianity and the Bible, you can start from everything that they know already. But some people you will talk to about the Gospel know virtually nothing about Jesus and you need to decide what is the best way to introduce him to them: maybe your own personal story or testimony and miracles that he has done. The one common factor in all forms of evangelism is telling the story of Jesus - his life, his death and his resurrection. Undoubtedly, whatever strategy Paul used he always had that as the centrepiece, Jesus - living, dead, raised again from the dead, and the significance of his death as an atonement for sin. Somehow or other, we do have to get to that truth.

It’s interesting how miracles play a part. We can pray, as we are speaking to people about Christ, that there may be miraculous circumstances, or miraculous events, that help draw them to him. That happened to many of us as we came to Christ. We can pray for this for others. Paul prayed for miracles to happen and that drew attention to the Gospel. So, there are different strategies. What are the different strategies that you need to adopt in your life and in your witness?

The second thing I want to use by way of a reflection in this talk, is to discuss the concept of Apostles. In this passage, Luke identifies, in verse 4 and verse 14, Paul and Barnabas as Apostles. There’s much discussion in the Church today about Apostles. I’ve commented on this as we’ve gone along in this study of Acts from time to time but at this point I’m going to pause and say something more substantial about this topic. We know that Jesus appointed twelve Apostles and they are the foundation of the Church. One of them, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus and another one, Matthias, was added to the Twelve. They’re the foundation but we also know from the evidence of the book of Acts, that several other people were definitely added into the group with a similar status to the Twelve. We know this applies to James the half-brother of Jesus, from a reference in 1 Corinthians 15, and we know it applies to Paul on the Damascus road. In this text, we see that the status of Apostle is given to Barnabas. We know therefore, that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to and spoke to a few people to add to the Twelve. Maybe there were a total of 15, or 20. It was a small number who had experienced Jesus in the resurrection and were commissioned by him. The Apostles, as described in the book of Acts, are this group of first-generation believers who encountered Christ in his resurrection. They were appointed personally by Jesus to be his representatives and the primary missionaries, initially sent out with the authority to teach, to found the Church and with power to do miracles. In 2 Corinthians 12: 12, Paul says that Apostles performed signs and wonders. It is one of the marks of an Apostle. These were listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3 - 8. All the evidence of the New Testament suggests that the way they thought about Apostles was that they were leaders in the first generation of the Church who had a personal commission from Jesus Christ himself. Paul describes himself as the last one to be added in. 1 Corinthians 15 said that he was the last because his appointment to be an Apostle was after all the others, and Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road.

Which then leads us to ask the question, ‘Are there Apostles today?’ Not in the New Testament sense but in a secondary sense we may say that some people perform similar functions. Their final authority is not knowing Christ in person but is the authority of the Word of God which rules over all of us. Sometimes we may describe pioneer missionary activity - setting up and planting churches - as apostolic, because it reflects the pattern of the New Testament but we have to say that the book of Acts clearly identifies the Apostles as that first-generation group of people, (maybe 15, maybe 20, maybe more, about 15 are named in a way that we can identify,) based on the Twelve. The Twelve are the foundation who Jesus commissioned, called and authorised to found the Church. It is the Apostles and their direct associates who are the writers of every book of the New Testament, including this book, the book of Acts, which is written by Luke. Luke wrote the Gospel and he was the direct associate of Paul and he represented Paul’s authority in his writing, particularly in the book of Acts. We’ll find later on that he is literally travelling with Paul on some of his missionary journeys. The way that he uses the word Apostle here defines it as a first-generation reality but we want the Church to have a pattern of life that is similar to what the Apostles had: to keep pioneering, keep planting, keep stretching out, keep building the kingdom, keep extending the kingdom through more churches in more places.

This story is not over yet. Here are these brand-new churches that Paul keeps leaving behind in each city because he leaves rather quickly. What’s going to happen to them? How are they going to be careful? That’s what we’re going to find out in the next episode. Hope to see you then.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Why did Paul and Barnabas work well together? Look at the characters of both men
  • Discipleship
    Discipleship
    1. Paul started to speak with people at the point they had in common. Encourage each other to find points of interest with the people you meet.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Research Roman gods and Roman culture.
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