Acts chapter 14         Next chapter           Back to Bible Studies    

In the first verse we find that despite the fact that the unbelieving Jews expelled them from Antioch Pisidia just prior (Acts 13:50), Paul and Barnabas go into the Jewish synagogue in the next city, Iconium. It shows just how unperturbed they were and how absolutely committed to spreading the Gospel. Their determination pays off for here a great number of Jews and Gentiles believe. Once again however, we find the unbelieving Jews campaigning against them (v 2), but this seems only to strengthen their resolve for in verse 3 ("Therefore, they stayed...") we see that Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord. There is an important lesson for us in v2: the Greek word for 'unbelieving' in this verse is the word 'apeitheia'. Translated literally it means 'stubborn refusal to be persuaded'. It is important to note that the unbelieving Jews did not simply listen to the message, weigh things up and then made a decision based on the evidence before them. The word apeitheia implies a stubborn, intentional, pro-active refusal to be persuaded.

In v4 we find that the city was divided - some people sided with the apostles and others with the unbelieving Jews. In this division, when compared to a similar situation in Lystra from v8 onwards, there is an important lesson for us. After Paul and Barnabas flee from Iconium, they arrive in Lystra which was a completely pagan city. Hence there is not even a Jewish synagogue for the apostles to go to. God however has another plan and by the Holy Spirit Paul heals a man who had been lame since birth. This miracle immediately drew much attention and a crowd formed around the apostles. As it was a pagan Greek city, the people immediately thought that their 'gods' had come to visit them and promptly name Barnabas 'Zeus' and Paul 'Hermes'. The crowd then proceeds to prepare to bring sacrifices to them. As the people in this city spoke a specific language (Lyaconian), the apostles did not realise at first what was going on, but when they realise that the people thought them to be 'gods' and wanted to sacrifice to them, they tried to stop them and started witnessing to them about the one true living God and that He was the one who was to be worshipped. At this time some Jews who had travelled from as far as Antioch in Syria (160 km away - that speaks volumes!) appear on the scene and incite the crowd against Paul and Barnabas - so much so that Paul is dragged out of the city, stoned and left for dead. There is some good news in this account however. Not only does Paul recover from his ordeal, but we know that Timothy came from this city and was likely converted during Paul and Barnabas' visit!

Now, when we compare the situation in Iconium and the situation in Lystra, we find some striking similarities. In Iconium we see that there were two groups - those who were converted and those who stubbornly refused to believe. In Lystra, we have the same - a group who believe and a group who did not. The two groups who were converted have something in common that is not immediately apparent, after all, the group in Iconium contain a large number of Jews and the group in Lystra were all Greek Gentiles...what they had in common was this: each group had a set, preconceived idea of who God was. For the group of Jews in Iconium the Jewish law and tradition dictated clearly those characteristics by which the Messiah would be recognised. The Greek pagans in Lystra also had a preconceived idea of who their god was - a 'being' who sent rain and made things grow and took care of them and to whom they brought sacrifices to appease him. Both of these parties had to let go of their preconceived idea of God and believe what Paul and Barnabas was saying. They had to believe what God was saying to them through the apostles and discard what they had believed up to that point. Romans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."

Having a preconceived idea of who God is (as both of the groups had) implies that our knowledge of Him comes from ourselves, our own minds and ideas. However, He is completely outside of this creation and any idea that we make for ourselves of the living God, will be tainted with what we want Him to be like. I shared a testimony of a family member who once said to me, after I had shared the reality of sin and our need for forgiveness with her, that her 'Jesus' was not like my 'Jesus' and that her 'Jesus' wanted her to be happy and would only do kind and nice things for her...Herein lies the problem when our idea of who God is comes from ourselves - we form an idea of God that corresponds to our needs. Both the unbelieving Jews in Iconium and the unbelieving Greek gentiles in Lystra rejected what the apostles were saying on the basis that what the apostles were saying about God, did not correspond with their own ideas about their 'god/s'. Worst of all, we could be worshipping and praying to a 'god' of our own making and will find ourselves ultimately frustrated when that 'god' does not answer our prayers. This is futile worship...What then is the solution? It is found in Matthew 16:13-18:"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. From this passage it is clear where our idea of God is to come from - by revelation from God Himself!

In the passage before us, there are several ways in which God is revealing Himself. Firstly we know that Paul and Barnabas always used Scripture when sharing the Gospel with unbelieving Jews. Then, in v3 we read that God 'confirmed the message of His grace by enabling the apostles to do miraculous signs and wonders, not only in Iconium but also in Lystra (The healing of the man born lame). Lastly, in v17 Paul makes it clear that God had revealed Himself by sending rain and crops in their seasons, and by providing food and filling them with joy. This reminded us of a number of relevant Scriptures. Psalm 19:1-6: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth."
Romans 1:18-20: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

In v22 Paul makes a striking comment: "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." He said this in the context of a desire in his heart to go through all the cities where gatherings of believers had been established and encourage them. Paul and Barnabas did this and also appointed elders in each church and with prayer and fasting committed the believers to the Lord. This is a reminder for us that entering the Kingdom of God is not as easy as we might think it is. There are many difficulties along the way - many of which occur because of what we expect 'our' God to do for us - and when he does not come through for us, then we question His existence, His love for us, His kindness, His faithfulness or whether we even belong to Him at all. These thoughts are perfect soil for the evil one. The only sure defense against this is our intimate knowledge of God and who He is, received from Him by revelation. Against this, as we read in Matthew 16, the gates of hell cannot prevail. The best thing for us to do is to pray: "Lord, please reveal yourself to me, so that I may truly know you, the way you actually are, so that there can be no shadow of doubt in my mind about you, your love for me, your mercy and kindness and what you have done for me' Amen. 

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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