The Book of Acts (Chapter 14:1-28) (Part 25)
Paul and Barnabas had seen God at work in the lives of many Gentile converts at Pisidian Antioch but had also encountered stiff opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. Paul and Barnabas realised that God was sending them to Gentiles rather than to the Jews. While Paul carried a deep burden for his Jewish brethren in the flesh he had realised that his mission field was to be to the Gentile world. Even though they had been opposed and slandered they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. You cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit and not be filled with joy because joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers. The secret to Paul and Barnabas’ ministry was the fact they were being continuously filled and empowered by the blessed Holy Spirit of God in everything they were saying and doing. As Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica; “…our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
One of the saddest things is to see ministers, missionaries, full time workers and even those who are involved in lay ministry seeking to work for God without being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many have never been baptised with the Holy Spirit initially to empower them for the avenue of service or work to which God has called them. It is not that they are not called or in the wrong place of service or unspiritual for that matter but that they have not been empowered for the work itself. Many have some success but in their deep minds know that their testimony and work lacks spiritual power. How we can attempt anything for God without the empowering work of the Holy Spirit is amazing. We need the Holy Spirit continuously, moment by moment to sustain us and direct our steps. If we are not continuously led by the Spirit and filled with His power the Lord Jesus is not glorified and His work in and through our lives and in the lives of others is hindered.
Spiritual armour and weapons
We may have been enlisted into the ranks of the LORD’s army when we were born again by the Spirit and trained for spiritual combat but unless we have the weapons and armour to fight the battle then we are as yet not fully equipped for the task ahead. It is the mighty Baptism with the Holy Spirit that furnishes us with the armour and weapons we need to demolish Satan’s spiritual strongholds. So then Paul and Barnabas having received rejection were not discouraged and they shook off the dust of their feet and just kept on going in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let the Jewish religious leaders at Pisidion Antioch ‘gather dust’ but there was no time for dust to settle on the feet of the Apostles. May the LORD preserve us from being put on the shelf to gather dust! And so we find them down at Iconium.
(Vs.14) “In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks.”
The blessed Holy Spirit continued to do His work through the apostles. They were in no way discouraged but went again to the Synagogue and there many were saved both Jews and Gentiles. Even though Paul’s mandate from the Lord Jesus was to be an apostle to the Gentiles Paul always kept in mind what he would later write to the Christians in Rome. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). It was always “to the Jew first.” Once again it was not Paul’s persuasive speech that won people to put their faith in the Lord Jesus but the proclamation of the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit and with power. Without a doubt the blessed Holy Spirit was at work in power convicting sinners to turn away from their sin and to turn by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Faith is from the Holy Spirit but unbelief is from Satan.
Once again it was the religious leaders who opposed what the Holy Spirit was doing. It is the same today in many Churches where there is a lot of religious activity and even profession to believe but there is no demonstration of the Spirit and power. In some churches if the Holy Spirit did manifest His power He would be rejected by some but undoubtedly embraced by others. It is always the common people that heard Jesus gladly and it is the same even today. Most of the people that get saved are everyday people from every walk of daily life. If you look at the revivals under men such as John Wesley, George Whitfield, William Booth, R.A. Torrey, Charles Finney and D.L. Moody it was the common people that were saved in droves and in some cases by the thousands just like it was on the Day of Pentecost! Furthermore, all of these men knew the power of the Holy Spirit resting upon their labour in the LORD.
Whenever there is a revival Satan and his demons are also there trying to turn people away from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He will often use religion and those who are religious but lost! Once again we also need to keep in mind that when the text refers to “the Jews” it is not primarily referring to the people but to the religious leaders. In the days of John Wesley often it was the clergy that incited the mobs to attack the Methodists and to ransack their houses. Wesley and his preachers were often opposed by the clergy of his day, namely from the Church of England. And so we read…
(Vs.2-3) “But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren. Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.”
The Apostle James wrote; “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). Jealousy and selfish ambition is a distinctive hallmark of those leaders in the local assembly who oppose the work of the Holy Spirit especially when confronted with Spirit filled men and women. The problem for these religious leaders is that they cannot control what is happening in the lives of those who have been genuinely filled with the Holy Spirit and try to shut them down. We are told that Barnabas himself was a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:24). We are also told that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) and they got rid of him.
It has been said “if you cannot attack what the preacher said you can always attack him for saying it.” This is precisely what religious people do when they cannot handle real Spirit-Filled Biblical preaching. They cannot refute what is being said so they attack the preacher. This was the reaction time and time again to John Wesley and many other Spirit-filled men that God has used in times past. The unsaved religious ministers often embittered those listening to the gospel message to rally against the preachers. This is what the religious leaders did to the people at Iconium. However, the Word of God cannot be chained even though at times its ministers are physically chained as Paul was to find out in the not too distant future. Notice three things that happened…
Firstly; the apostles spent some time with the believers speaking boldly. The more resistance they got the bolder they became to the further dismay of the religious leaders. They spent a lot of time there strengthening their brethren for the trials and difficulties that lay ahead of them now that they were saved. It is one thing to see someone saved but something more to see them become a disciple. Paul and Barnabas did not just set out to make converts but to make disciples.
Secondly; they kept their reliance upon the LORD. Despite the opposition, they continued to rely solely and completely on the ministry of the Holy Spirit to do His convicting and converting work. They knew that their strength was not by might or by power but by the Spirit of the LORD (Zechariah 4:6).
Thirdly; God Himself “was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.” The signs followed as the Lord Jesus said they would (Mark 16:17). The writer to the Hebrews also confirmed this when he wrote; “…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? This salvation was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, and was affirmed by God through signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (Hebrews 2:3-4).
These signs were a particular endorsement of the apostles by the Holy Spirit. As Paul also wrote later to the believers at Corinth; “I am in no way inferior to those “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. The true marks of an apostle — signs, wonders, and miracles — were performed among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:11b-12). There were “super apostles” (not real ones) like there are today who go around giving one prophecy after another, raking in the cash and then leaving town.
However, we also notice that Paul added that the signs, wonders and miracles were performed with great perseverance. It took time to minister to people. Demonic power and sin had to be broken in people’s lives. It was no “mickey-mouse” stuff but prayerful wrestling, endurance and dethroning principalities, and powers of wickedness in high places. Spiritual strongholds in people’s lives needed to be demolished. Only the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit could do this. And so they had to spend a lot of time there at Iconium to establish the new converts in their faith. This kind of ministry will be common place in days to come especially just before the Lord Jesus comes back again.
(Vs.4-7) “But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; and there they continued to preach the gospel.”
Whenever the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit there will be division. This division is not a deliberate attempt to be divisive but Word of God itself divides from what is true from what is false. God’s Word does this. As we read; “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
The Lord Jesus Himself said that the preaching of the gospel would cause division between those who follow Him and those who do not follow Him. He said; “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:24-39).
The Lord Jesus was not saying that we should not look after our immediate family but that when it came to following Him there would be even those closest to us who will reject us because we follow Him. We must always keep in view that our real family is the blood washed saints in Jesus. If our family members are saved then this is great but if they are not then we must still follow the Lord Jesus even if it means our own family members reject us. It is the same wherever we are. The moment we witness and preach the gospel there will be those who will listen and those who won’t.
Now some were very upset with Paul and Barnabas and could not cope with their message and decided to get rid of them. Of course as usual the leaders were behind this persecution. God has His timing and it was not the time for the apostles to lose their lives at this stage and so they became aware of what was being planned. We are not told how they found out but they did. So they fled to other cities. The Lord Jesus also spoke about this when He said; “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23a). So the apostles left Iconium and took the gospel message with them. And so they fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; and there they continued to preach the gospel.”
(Vs.8) “At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.”
Whenever we see a healing in the New Testament either at the hands of the Lord Jesus or the apostles it always points to a deeper and spiritual truth. When we see someone physically crippled in the New Testament it always points to the fact that all of us are sinners and are spiritually crippled by sin until the Lord Jesus empowers us to walk with God by the power of the Holy Spirit and not the flesh. Sometimes God will use a physical healing to point people to their need for spiritual healing. In one case after Jesus had healed someone He said; “Go your way and sin no more lest something worse happens to you.” This is the purpose of physical healing in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus and the apostles when dealing with the unsaved. It always points to the Lord Jesus who sets those free crippled in spirit and soul by sin. When Paul and Barnabas arrived at Lystra they saw a man who was crippled from birth and unable to walk.
(Vs. 9-10) “This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.”
In Romans 10:17 we read; “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” This crippled man we are told had been listening to Paul’s preaching. Paul was preaching the Word of God concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. The power of the Spirit was resting on Paul in such a way that he had discernment to see that this crippled man had faith to be made well. We should always be prepared to pray for the sick after we have been preaching the gospel or witnessing to the unsaved. If we are going to see someone come out of a wheelchair then there must be faith present in us or in the person needing to be healed. We read about the ministry of the Lord Jesus where it is recorded in the Bible that; “People had come from Jerusalem and from every village of Galilee and Judea, and the power of the Lord was present for Him to heal the sick” (Luke 5:17b).
The power of the Lord is the blessed Holy Spirit. He must be present and active for healing and miracles to occur. The Lord Jesus was always filled with the Holy Spirit even from His physical conception in the womb. John the Baptist was also filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb of his mother. John of course ha a sin nature but the Lord Jesus was without sin. Never the less, without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, healing will not occur. Most of what we see today called ‘healing’ is nothing more than showmanship packaged in Christian wrapping. In some cases it is demonic counterfeits. When the Power of God is really present people are not only thoroughly saved but thoroughly healed if it is the work of the Spirit. Not all were healed in the ministry of the Lord Jesus but everyone He prayed for or came to Him was instantly healed. In the Last days healing and deliverance will become common place in the Body of Messiah and especially among the unsaved.
So then for healing to work there must be genuine faith imparted by the Holy Spirit. Now when Paul saw this man’s faith he commanded him to stand upright, which the man did as he leaped up and began to walk. His faith had made him whole. God will always respond to faith (Hebrews 11:6). While we are not specifically told the man who now walked also was a saved man. Sometimes God will use a miracle or a healing to get a certain person saved. Having said this, whether the unsaved are healed or not they must repent and believe to be saved. This is the deepest need of man. Without the righteous life from God received through faith we will be forever lost even if God has healed us physically.
Physical healing is not the main thing but what it demonstrates spiritually. The Lord Jesus used this healing to draw the unsaved to Himself as their saviour from sin. Sadly the crowd reacted differently to the healing. Crowds can be very fickle at the best of times. This is why the Lord Jesus never was a crowd pleaser because He knew what was in the heart of men. This crowd were no exception. They focused on the healing and those through whom the healing had come and not on the one who had in fact done the healing through the apostles. And so we read…
(Vs.11-13) “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.”
At one time in His ministry the Lord Jesus said; “A wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4). People were enamoured by the healings and the miracles and even the religious leaders could not deny what was happening. However, the Lord Jesus put things into perspective because He knew the propensity in fallen man to seek signs, miracles and wonders instead of righteousness. Now these unsaved people Paul and Barnabas were seeking to win for Jesus were pagans and thought that Paul and Barnabas were ‘gods’ in human form. Satan had tried to silence the apostles and now he sought to flatter them in the eyes of the people they were preaching to but the apostles were not into self-aggrandisement but were very quick to stop these pagans from deifying them as it were. Paul and Barnabas’ had no intention of putting on a show or a performance unlike many we see doing today! When the apostles heard that the pagans thought they were ‘gods’ and wanted to sacrifice to them they were alarmed. The last thing they wanted was to draw attention to themselves or to their ministry, unlike many today! So what did they do?
(Vs.14-18) “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”
The apostles were very quick to give all of the glory to God and not to draw attention to themselves or to their gifts or ministry unlike many do today. They rushed into the oncoming crowd and tore their robes. They were no ‘super apostles’ but humble men who dared not meddle with what God was doing. They were also quick to say that they were humans susceptible to sin like all men and preached the need for repentance and that they needed to turn from these vain things to a living God. The religious ideas and trappings of these pagans were vain and indicative of their spiritual ignorance concerning God who had done them good by sending them rain, fruitful seasons and satisfying their hearts with food and gladness even though they were ignorant of Him.
Many unsaved people in our world today who still do not know are not aware of the fact that the God who created them still provides for them in His benevolence. As we read; “The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9). We also read about the Lord Jesus in glory. “But in these last days He (God) has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:2-3a).
While God sustains all of His creation and exercises mercy everyday it does not mean that people will not give accountability to God, they most certainly will. Men will be judged on the light they have received (Romans 1:18-32). Some will suffer in hell more than others (Matthew 10:15; 11:22-24). Without the Lord Jesus Christ men and women will be lost. God in His foreknowledge knows who will be saved and who will be lost and the decisions people will make. Once the last one to be saved comes to faith in the Lord Jesus then the end will come.
Even though God wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, not all will be saved. There are some who could be saved and who should be saved but they never will be saved because even when they are confronted with the gospel they still choose not to be saved. God has given all men His witness in the things He has made and yet because of sin and rebellion men choose to follow Satan rather than God, hence the need for the new birth from above (John 3:3). Sadly the unsaved will always focus on the created things rather than the creator Himself. Now even after Paul and Barnabas had sought earnestly to contain the uproar they were hard pressed to stop the crowd from offering sacrifices to them as gods. Satan was roaring like a lion! He had to put a stop to this before things really got out of hand and so his servants, the religious leaders, “worked the crowds” to turn them against the apostles.
(Vs.19) “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”
We are not specifically told whether Paul was actually dead. The stones were big and it would seem there was no life left in him. However, God’s time for Paul to fall asleep in Jesus had not come yet. God had much more for him to do. Whether he was dead or still alive he was totally incapacitated. Satan thought he had Paul at last but was sadly mistaken. Once again on God’s providential checkerboard it was “checkmate” for Satan. This incident teaches us that if we are walking in the Spirit and in the will of God that nothing will happen to us until we have successfully completed the will of God. We may suffer and be deprived of many things and be in some very precarious situations but until we have completed God’s will no devil in hell or man on this earth will be able to terminate our life. God knows when our time will come and has already provided all of the resources we will ever need to cross that Jordan River into the Promised Land of His eternal kingdom! Well what happened next?
(Vs.20-22) “But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
You know when someone falls off of their bike learning to ride the very best thing they can do is to get back on it and keep riding. Well Paul was prayed for and received instant healing and went back to preaching as earnestly and as fervently as he had done previously before he had been stoned. Satan just could not beat Paul in a fight! After preaching and winning many people to faith in the Lord Jesus at Derbe the apostle Paul went right back to preaching the gospel in Lystra and Iconium and then on to Antioch strengthening the assemblies and encouraging them to keep contending for the faith once delivered to the saints. He was God’s uncontested champion!
He was also a realist in that he also told all of the disciples that there would always be many tests and trials and times of tribulation through which we would be enabled to enter the kingdom of God. One of the reasons the Lord Jesus allows tests and trials is so that we do not become too comfortable down here in this life. Now He does bless us with strength and peace and prosper us according to our needs and there are times of respite and whether in good times or not so good times God is seeking to enable us to walk in the rest of faith.
(Vs.23) “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
The local assembly was led by Elders. The word “elder” can also be translated as “Bishop” “Overseer” “Presbyter” “shepherd” or “pastor.” Elders were those with spiritual oversight who were competent in rightly dividing the Word of God. Some were also public speakers as well as a one on one counsellor. They had to be servants of the Word of God. A pastor was the first among equals and ruled with the elders even though the pastor had the oversight for the ministry. Elders were not appointed haphazardly, neither were they recent converts but chosen through prayer and fasting and having the necessary gifting for that office of ministry within the local assembly over which they would preside along with the pastor. The Apostle Paul would set doctrine but leave the running of the local Assembly to the leaders he had appointed in consultation with the Holy Spirit. Paul would revisit the assemblies when he could to see that everything was in order.
Today we have apostles but they are different than the original 12 apostles in that they are not writing scripture, neither have they seen the Lord Jesus personally as the original apostles had including Paul. They would be the equivalent of church planting ministries but would also operate in the gifts of the Spirit as the original 12 apostles did. As for Apostolic doctrine we have the complete Canon of scripture. There is no license for anyone to add to scripture. In fact the Bible itself warns against doing this (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32) (Proverbs 30:5-6) (1 Corinthians 4:6) (Revelation 22:18-19).
There are those today in the so called “New Apostolic Movement” who are claiming to have equal authority with the original 12 apostles and in some cases introducing doctrines that are not Biblical. The fact is that there is no new doctrine but only a deeper revelation and understanding of what is already written in the Word of God.
(Vs.24-28) “They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.”
The apostolic ministry was not a one man show. Plurality of leadership was always God’s intention even though there was always a first among equals. For example it was James that presided over the fellowship in Jerusalem and not Peter. James was the first among equals. Furthermore, we always see the apostles travelling with other companions in ministry. Paul may well have been the main speaker but there was always Barnabas or a Silas with him as well as other brethren. Also leaders were accountable to the fellowship from which they were sent out and Paul and Barnabas were no exception. They were accountable to others even though they carried apostolic authority among the assemblies. They arrived back at Antioch and gave the fellowship there an account of their ministry for the Lord Jesus. Also Paul was able to tell them how the LORD had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. The direction of Paul’s future ministry had been set BY God through the ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit. Now they had a rest for a while and undoubtedly continued in their regular ministry and worship among their brothers and sisters at Antioch strengthening all the brethren there.