Is it okay to be a mediocre follower of Jesus? What does Jesus really want from his followers? Have you ever wondered if you are following Jesus in a way that is in line with his desires for his followers? Is it enough to believe in him, and attend church sometimes? Or is there something more? Today we try to begin to answer that.
In the previous post in our study through Acts 14, Paul had just been stoned to the point where the crowd thinks he is dead. They drag him outside the city and leave him there. Eventually some Christians show up, gather around him, and Paul gets up. What? Is this a miracle? We don’t know. Does he need medical attention? What does he do?
Paul goes right back into the city where the crowd was from, the crowd that just stoned him! Is he out of his mind? Or was he doing this in hiding, under cover of night? Likely. He was probably trying to find Barnabas. We read that Paul did not preach that next day in Lystra. Instead he and Barnabas leave Lystra, and they head to the city of Derbe. There they do speak up about the good news and as a result, a large number of people became disciples of Jesus.
Wait. Did you hear that? One day Paul is stoned nearly to death. The next day he is out there preaching again, as if the stoning never happened! As if he didn’t just lose his life the day before. What? We should pause and think about that for a minute, and it should raise a question in the hearts and minds of every Christian reading this story.
Here’s the question: Is Paul a Christian superhero, or is he normal? Should we consider what Paul did as radical and over-the-top? To get stoned one day, and then keep preaching the next? Is Paul in a different category that we shouldn’t think is attainable for the common Christian? Is it okay if we aren’t as passionate or dedicated as he was? I’m not saying that we get stoned, abused or persecuted, our faith isn’t genuine. But what am I saying? Hang in there, as the apostles are going to comment on this in just a few verses.
What we see next is another astounding choice by the apostles. After a great response in Derbe, in verses 21b-26, Paul and Barnabas retrace their journey, including visiting places like Lystra where Paul had just been stoned, Iconium where the Jews threatened to stone them, and Antioch (Pisidian Antioch, not their home base of Syrian Antioch) where the Jews also gave them big trouble.
Again, we need to stop and notice this. They go back to places where they had serious trouble. It seems to me the apostles could easily make an argument that they needed to preach the Gospel in new places, and thus avoid those towns where they nearly lost their lives.
But what did they do, in spite of the danger to their lives? They went back to those very towns! Why?
We learn why in verse 22a. They strengthened the disciples, encouraging them to remain true to the faith. Paul and Barnabas cared about the people enough to risk their lives and visit the new disciples again, to see how they are doing, to strengthen them in the faith. The apostles were the real deal. They came back. Such amazing care for people and for the mission of Jesus! But again I ask, is this amazing? Or should it be considered normal? Are Paul and Barnabas a standard all Christians should aspire to, or are they radical, meaning that we can consider them anomalies we don’t need to compare ourselves to?
I mentioned above that Paul was going to talk about this. He and Barnabas do so next in verse 22b where we read that the apostles teach the disciples that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
What does that mean? I don’t want to hear that. Do you? We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom? No, not what I want to hear. And yet, this was Paul and Barnabas’ experience on that mission trip. They had been through many hardships. I suspect that the apostles feared the new disciples in those towns might suffer too. Because of that, Paul and Barnabas didn’t want the Christians to have a false expectation about a life of ease.
So we’ll need to take a close look at this loaded sentence in verse 22. What does it mean? Check back in to the next post as we’ll try to understand what the apostles were thinking.