YOUR MISSIONARY JOURNEY FOR CHRIST
1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, 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. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.
20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.
— Acts 14:1-28, ESV
This chapter records the last stops on the first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. It covers the highs and lows, the friends and enemies, and the comforts and pains that come with being a full-time witness for Christ. Paul’s life was one missionary journey after another, and he stayed at it until the day he died.
It is not just the Apostles and career missionaries, but every Christian is on a missionary journey for Christ. You’re either doing it well, or performing poorly. We should all take a close look at some of the tools Paul put in his chest as he traveled. We will want to grab them and take them along on our missionary journeys, too.
Courage (vs. 1-7)
Of all the reasons we give for not sharing the gospel with others and inviting them to Christ’s church, number one on the list is, “I’m afraid.” We’re afraid of being too public or being perceived as too pushy with our faith. We’re afraid of saying the wrong things at the wrong time. We’re afraid we’re not good enough to share the good news. We’re afraid of the resentments or rejections that might reciprocate. Fear silences us, and when it does, the gospel does not go out, people do not attend gospel church services, and souls are not saved.
Paul and his peers were people just like us. “Speaking boldly” did not come naturally to Paul (ref. 2 Corinthians 10:10). He had a past he was less than proud of (ref. 1 Timothy 1:13). But at every stop in his Christian life, Paul “spoke” (the gospel) and people “believed” (in the Lord Jesus Christ). One thing Paul had that most of us lack is courage.
Courage is not the absence of fear, it is conquering your fears for a greater person and purpose. A man who is afraid of fire will summon the courage to save someone he loved from a burning building. For Christians, the person, or persons, we love is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the people we would like to see saved.
Courage is maintained consistently by a sense of calling, knowing who has called you and knowing what He has called you to do. Paul was called by God, to go throughout Asia and Europe, to talk about Jesus with everyone he met. He succeeded and failed, in the world’s eyes, but in reality you never fail when you witness for Christ. You only fail if you fail to witness.
You may not be sent to another continent, but God has called you to go to your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and other people you providentially meet. Every meaningful conversation should include some talk about Christ and His church. With a little courage, you can stand up, speak up, and know when to shut up for Jesus!
That’s right, sometimes courage means living to fight another day, as Paul did when he left Iconium for western Galatia. Everywhere Paul went with the gospel, he found “four that want to own me, two that want to stone me, one says she’s a friend of mine.” The courage to own the gospel sometimes entails ducking the stones, but courage also means maintaining the commitment “to preach the gospel” (vs. 7).
What else on earth are we called to do that is more important than being a witness, a missionary for the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there anything of greater value than a soul? Souls cannot be won without courage!
Sacrifice (vs. 8-19)
One of the worst things that can every happen to a person is to become successful, or worse, famous. Popularity has poisoned many a person, and the same is true for would-be witnesses. It is very hard, in any age, to be both popular and preach the gospel.
Paul became quite popular on this leg of his missionary journey. He used his apostolic powers to perform a miracle, like Jesus, as a prelude to preaching the gospel. But before he could preach, the people put him and Barnabas on a pedestal, even calling them “gods.” This could really go to a guy’s head.
Paul had a decision to make. Would he accept worldly (and false religious) fame and fortune, live in Lystra on a pedestal, or tell the truth and the true gospel and risk rejection and retribution. Paul made many sacrifices for Christ in his life, and this was one of them. Things went south in Lystra for Paul. It seems the “two that want[ed] to stone” him eventually hit their mark. But among those in Lystra who heard the gospel and believed, because of the sacrifice Paul made, were Lois, Eunice, and their grandson and son, a protege named Timothy.
What are we willing to sacrifice worldly fortune and fame to make the gospel greater in our lives? Do others know Jesus means more to us than any other person or thing on earth? Would you rather win the lottery, or a lot of people to Christ?
Perseverance (vs. 20-23)
All missionary journeys will eventually take a trip down tribulation lane. Jesus promised such during His last days on earth (ref. John 16:33). Paul promised the same on his first missionary journey (vs. 22).
In spite of being stoned nearly to death in Lystra, Paul persevered in preaching the gospel, even going back to the city where he was almost slain. That’s courage, sacrifice, and perseverance rolled into one! Yet I think it is the latter, perseverance, that really proves one is a genuine Christian, and perseverance is the key to eventually influencing others with the gospel.
Most surveys indicate that lost and unchurched people will respond to an invitation to attend a church service and hear the gospel, when they are asked at least twenty times. I must have heard the gospel at least a hundred times before I was converted to Christianity. I prayed and witnesses to a person for twenty years before they accepted Jesus as Lord. I’m praying for someone I love right now who has hardly darkened the door of a church in ten years, and I’m not going to give up.
Paul persevered in winning souls and planting churches. This begs the question, does someone have to unite with a church to be a Christian? No, and yes. No, salvation is by grace, not works, and responsible church membership is hard work. Yes, though, when you consider perseverance as proof of faith. Paul never considered someone a disciple unless they were collected with other disciples in a biblical church, with a plurality of elders (vs. 23)!
What is needed more in the world today than Christians persevering to prove their faith in Christ? What do we need more of today, more government programs, more entertainment venues, more silly churches that are nothing more than entertainment venues, or more biblical churches, rightly preaching the gospel and the word of God, with members who are true disciples, and disciple makers?
Joy (vs. 24-28)
Find Christ and find your place in His church, and you will find joy. Help others find the Lord, get baptized, and added to the church and your joy will increase. After all, Heaven is one long church service and fellowship meal for the Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples!
The final paragraph in this chapter shows Paul and Barnabas returning to their home church in Antioch after completion of their first missionary journey. They had been away for about a year. They reveled in “the grace of God” (vs. 26). They celebrated God’s gift of “faith to the Gentiles” (vs. 27). And the joy of their homecoming lasted “no little time” (vs. 28), because it was a happy, peaceful, joyful experience to worship and witness with fellow Christians.
It reminds me of a poem by the late, great Reformed Pastor Richard Baxter:
In the communion of the saints,
Is wisdom, safety, and delight;
When my heart declines and faints,
It is raised by their heat and light.
Is there any greater joy than being a Christian and enjoying the assurance of salvation by grace along, through faith alone, in Christ alone? Isn’t it great when we share this joy with the fellow members of the church, engaged in the worship of our God and Savior Jesus Christ? There is further joy when we share the gospel and the church with others, when we engage in full in this Christian life, which is really one missionary journey after another, just like the Apostle Paul.
Robert Zimmerman said music changed his life. He was a middle class Jewish kid from Minnesota who discovered, in order, the radio, the piano, and the guitar. He changed his name, to Bob Dylan, and started a never-ending tour which continues to this day.
Saul of Tarsus said Jesus changed his life, on the Damascus Road. He was a fierce pharisaical Jew who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He changed is hame, to Paul, and started a series of missionary journeys, which never ended until his life on earth was done.
You and I have been changed by Jesus, too, if we are Christians. We are sinners who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. We’ll get new names in Heaven, but let us use the ones we have now to be ambassadors for Christ, witnesses of the gospel, growers of God’s church. Let us pick up these tools Paul used, and be on our own missionary journeys for Christ.