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TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Acts 14:1-14:28
Key Verse: 14:22

We thank God for God’s wonderful plan of salvation for mankind, which was fulfilled through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through him, the Saviour Jesus, we are justified from everything that we could not be justified from by our human effort. Through him whoever believes is justified and forgiven and saved. This message of salvation is timeless and applicable to all people of all times. Today’s passage is about Paul and Barnabas’ continuous missionary journey, and about God’s work in Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Paul and Barnabas suffered much in the course of carrying out the mission and God enabled them to win many disciples. As they completed their mission trip, they said, “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Centred on these words, let’s study this passage.

First, Satan’s poisoning work (1-7). Look at verse 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 Gentiles believed.” Because of severe persection in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas came to Iconium, which was nearly 100 miles south-east of Antioch. It was still a Greek city when Paul and Barnabas visited it, and was a centre of agriculture and commerce. In Antioch, Paul delivered a full length message of the gospel, the history of Israel that was directed to the coming of Jesus, and Jesus’ death and resurrection, and justification through faith in him. At Iconium we don’t know what message was given. But Luke says that they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. They had been expelled from Antioch. But when they spoke the word of God continually without fear by depending on God, God worked powerfully through their preaching in the hearts of a great number of people, both Jews and Gentiles.

Then what happened? Look at verse 2. “But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Luke used the word, “poison.” We all know how harmful poison is. It can even cause people to die. Psalm 140:3 says, “They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips” (‘Ro 3:13). We are reminded of Genesis 3, how the serpent poisoned the mind of Eve. The serpent approached the woman while she was alone and said, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Eve should have resisted the servant, saying, “What you said is not correct. You don’t know the meaning of God’s command. It is his love. God’s word is absolute. So don’t play with it.” However, she began a conversation with the serpent. While she was doing so, the poison of doubt permeated in her mind and she finally sinned against God by disobeying the holy command of God. And she spread the poison to her husband Adam, and the fall of man took place. They fell from the kingdom of God to the kingdom of Satan.

Still Satan’s powerful poisonous work is going on. Last week Pope Francis said, “People of other faith and of no faith are as capable of doing good as devout Catholics…Atheists who do good is redeemed, not just Catholics.” His saying makes us wonder what devout Catholics believe. Romans 3:12 says, “…there is no one who does good, not even one.” And Paul said in Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Then he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Ro 7:24). The Bible clearly says that all human beings need to repent and believe in Jesus to be redeemed and saved. Then they can truly do good in God’s sight (Titus 2:14). We should watch out for the words of any authorities that can poison our minds and hearts. Poisonous words can be heard through professors or close friends or some others we trust. We are now living internet age. It is very useful and also can be dreadfully harmful. People can put any article, music or picture. Some sites are toxic. Sometimes tempting scenes suddenly pop up. We really need discernment and self-control. In the summer, it is easy to dress in a way that is tempting for others which Satan uses to poison their minds. We should also watch out for this.

Then what did Paul and Barnabas do with the poisonous work? Look at verse 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 do miraculous signs and wonders.” The remedy for poisoned minds is the word of God. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time to speak the words of the Lord to dilute the poison in the minds. We should take time to hear the word of God to be rid of poison in our minds. We need to help our Bible students to study the words of God more and more until all the poison of relativistic ideas and doubts are sucked out and absolute faith is produced in them. We need to guard our hearts with the words of the Scriptures. A Psalmist said in Psalm 119:9,11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Also the Bible tells us to offer the parts of our body, our hands and feet and eyes, to God positively as instruments of righteousness (Ro 6:13).

Look at verse 4. “The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.” This verse well shows the spiritual reality. This kind of division is not necessarily bad. It is a clear spiritual phenomenon. Those who believe and those who do not believe cannot be mixed just as light and darkness were not put together but separated at God’s creation. Then there was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news. Their preaching of the good news, no one could stop.

Second, Paul’s resurrection faith (8-20). Look at verse 8. “In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.” It is noticeable that before the man being healed, he listened to Paul and faith in him was shown.

But the crowd saw only the outward work and shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Because of language problem Paul and Barnabas did not know what they were shouting. Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he is the chief speaker. 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. Large scale of sacrifices seemed to be prepared. Now when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.” They knew that they were not the object of receiving such sacrifices. That would be a terrible sin to the both parties before God. Paul and Barnabas spoke to them a proper message. “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” It is said that the local Lycaonians were largely uneducated, even illiterate. Paul and Barnabas preached a proper message to the illiterate pagans. They spoke about the living God, who made heaven and earth and seas and everything in them. All people, whether educated or uneducated, understand the concept of creation. How important it is to know God the Creator who made all things out of nothing. Nothing existed without him. He is living and has shown kindness by giving rain and crops and proving plenty of food and filling people’s hearts with joy. He wants the people of each nation to come to him as they hear the message of his creation. He is the true object of worship for all people of all nations. However, this message did not get into the minds of the Lycanoians who were hotheaded. They still wanted to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, who performed a miracle in their sight.

Next what happened? Look at verse 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.” What a drastic change from sacrificing to them to stoning them to death! Sinful men’s eyes are deceptive, and they cannot be true to themselves. They are unpredictable. In John 2:23, Jesus did not entrust himself to those who believed him by seeing miraculous signs.

Look at verse 20. “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.” Paul was true to the Lord and the mission the Lord had given him. Even stoning him to death could not stop him from being faithful to the Lord and the Lord’s given task. He showed his true faith to the disciples. He not only got up but went back into the city, where he was stoned and dragged out from. It was none other than his resurrection faith. This should be the life of those who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Never being defeated but ever challenging in any situation. May we learn this attitude in carrying out our mission, in studying, working and doing any other things for God. The next day Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe.

Third, entering the kingdom of God (21-28). In Derbe they preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Derbe was at least a sixty-mile (96km) trudge from Lystra. When they overcame such hardship of being stoned to death in Lystra, God very much blessed their work of preaching in Derbe. It is God who works accepting our faithfulness and devotion to him.

Look at verses 21b and 22. “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” Here we see the importance of returning and revisiting and strengthening the disciples acquired. This was one of Paul and Barnabas’ mission strategy in their first mission journey. Disciples are to be supported and strengthened. They encouraged the disciples to remain true to the faith. Remaining true to the faith is really a beautiful thing in the world

Then they said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is the final destination of our life on the earth. How glorious it will be to enter the kingdom of God! The kingdom of God is one clear theme of the Bible, and also of Acts. In chapter 1 Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God to his disciples for forty days after his resurrection. In chapter 28, Paul preached the kingdom of God as a prisoner in a rented house in Rome. The ultimate purpose of the apostles’ preaching the good news is that those who hear it may enter the kingdom of God. As we studied, through faith in Jesus who died for our sins and rose again from the dead we are justified, which is the ticket to the kingdom of God. It is certain that no one can enter the kingdom of God just through many hardships. Hardship is not the ticket to the kingdom of God, but faith. However, those who keep their faith in Jesus are to go through many hardships in this world.

We have seen, Paul suffered much in his first mission journey, being expelled from Antioch in the severe persecution, fighting against Satan’s poisonous work in Iconium, and even to the point of being stoned to death in Lystra. Later in Roman prison he wrote to Timothy in his last epistle, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (2 Tim 3:10,11). And then he said, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12). Yet, hardships and persecutions cannot discourage us. Rather, through persecutions and hardships, our faith can be refined, of greater worth than refined gold.

Nowadays Christians more and more do not seem to be welcome in our society. When Christians do not join in their fun party or its kind, they easily become the object of ridicule. Their godly way of living, even godly way of clothing, becomes the target of criticism. Furthermore, when they speak the words of the Scriptures, people feel offended and Christians are even sued for telling the truth according the Bible. People question, “Why are they so different? All others are okay, but only they are different; they are the cause of the problem for uniting our society and the world.” But we should not be afraid of being different. We remember how Noah was different from the people of his time. While people were enjoying nice weather and many other things in the world, he faithfully built an ark far away from the beach, preaching the message of salvation for year after year. His life looked weird to the eyes of the people. But what happened in the end? Finally, flood came and all perished except Noah and those who were in the ark with him. Jesus compared the final days of the world to the time of Noah. In the last days People will live like the people of Noah’s time, who continued their way of living up to the day Noah entered the ark, until the flood came and took them all away (Mt 24:38-39). We believe that Christian life includes sufferings and hardship, but it is a glorious life with a living hope of the kingdom of God.

Look at verse 23. “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” To those who believe, their personal faith in the Lord Jesus is most important. Yet, that’s not all. Here we see what Paul and Barnabas did after strengthening and encouraging the disciples. He built a church at each region appointing elders, so that the believers may build a community of God for their lives in this world and to do the work of God together. And Paul and Barnabas committed them to the Lord.

Then they preached the word in Perga and came back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They reported the work of God, all done through them. And they could preach the good news to the Gentiles, because God opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. God initiates his work. We need to pray humbly and constantly for the open door of faith to our campus students.

We thank God for the hope of the kingdom of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. May we willingly bear many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, remaining true to our faith, overcoming Satan’s poisoning work and persecutions as we do the work of God.

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