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Preaching by the Way
As we open the 14th chapter of Acts, we find Paul and Barnabas still traveling together and entering into Iconium. It is our purpose today to cover both the happenings in Iconium, and then to pass on with these two stalwart sons of God into Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia. There are so many things before us that we begin at once to tabulate them.
I. PAUL AND BARNABAS IN ICONIUM (Acts 14:1-5 )
1. They went both together. Let me quote for you the opening verse of our study. "And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews." How beautiful is this expression conveying the fellowship of saints, but it is more than beautiful; it has a deep meaning. Men in business life usually associate themselves with other men. James and John, Andrew and Peter, were partners in fishing; for fish. Do we marvel, therefore, that they might not be partners in fishing for men?
2. They SO spake. We will quote now the latter part of verse one, they "so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed." Let us emphasize the little word "so." It is God who "so" loved that He gave. The Apostle "so" spake that many believed. There are three things to suggest:
(1) The subject matter of the sermon, In this case, and in every other case when Paul was speaking, the subject matter was the grace of God made manifest in Jesus Christ, raised and exalted.
We need the preaching of Christ. He who preaches any other gospel is not preaching the Gospel. The pulpit should never be given over to political harangue, or moral themes, and certainly not to the discussion of the current literature of the day. The preacher is separated unto the Gospel of God concerning His Son.
(2) The Spirit's power in the sermon. This is emphasized particularly by the little word "so." They "so" spake. However, Acts 14:3 tells us that they spake in the Lord.
In preaching it is not enough to preach the Truth. It must be preached in the Holy Ghost. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, "I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling."
It is easy to see what Paul preached to the people, for he preached the testimony of God and he preached Jesus Christ; but how did he preach it? Notice the contexts of his statement, "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
(3) They spake with boldness. Acts 14:3 also says, They abode "speaking boldly in the Lord." There was no fear of man either with Paul or Barnabas, There never should be with us. A preacher has no right to doctor his message to seek the plaudits of the pew.
3. They wrought signs and wonders. Let me read to you the latter part of Acts 14:3 , "Speaking boldly in the Lord, * * and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands." These signs and wonders often followed the ministry of the disciples. God bore testimony by them. He gave endorsement through them to the men who proclaimed His Truth. We have already discussed in a former sermon the effect of signs and wonders, and while we think that these are still possible, just as the Holy Spirit desires to work them out, we must remember that they must be granted of God, and not forced. The big thing with the disciples, the thing first stated, and the thing stressed, is the testimony of salvation which they bore. The signs and wonders were granted unto them; they were marks of Divine approval and grace given from above, through which their hands might be strengthened in the service of the Lord.
4. They caused division. Acts 14:4 reads, "But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the Apostles."
There are those who would proclaim a general and universal acceptance of the Gospel in this age. That is absolutely unscriptural. Antagonism of the gospel message on the part of the multitudes will continue until the Lord comes back. Some will believe, some will not believe.
5. They fled the city. Acts 14:5 and Acts 14:6 read: "And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, they were ware of it, and fled into Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about."
Some one will cry, "Cowards, Scarecrows, Faint-hearts, they fled!" Certainly they fled. But they did not flee because they were afraid or unwilling to bear persecution for Christ's sake; they fled because it is altogether improper for a child of God to place himself, purposely, in unnecessary danger. They were not "Scarecrows." We know that because a little while later they returned to the same city and preached Christ. Back into the vortex of possible persecution they went unafraid. Daniel could trust God without fear even in a lions' den; Paul and Silas could sing" in a Philippian jail. However, the same men who displayed no fear on many occasions, fled from Iconium. The same man, Paul, however, had been let down from the wall at Damascus and had fled.
The lesson for us in all of this is potent. We should be willing to bear any necessary danger which the proclamation of the Truth brings upon us. But we should not be unwise or ashamed to make our escape from such persecution as might hinder our future ministry and testimony.
II. PAUL AND BARNABAS IN LYSTRA AND DERBE (Acts 14:6-10 )
After the two Apostles fled from Iconium they came into "Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about." This was according to the command of Christ, "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another." Mark you, they did not stop preaching because the people sought to stone them. They merely changed their base of operation.
1. "They preached the Gospel." That is the statement of Acts 14:7 . The Gospel has a message of good news. It is threefold in its contents. Paul said, "The Gospel which I preached unto you," "how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." After this statement, Paul, in the same chapter, continued and discussed the resurrection of saints at the Coming of the Lord. Paul preached this Gospel; nothing more: nothing less.
2. Healing the impotent man. In the city of Lystra there was a man impotent in his feet. He was a notable case in as much as he had been sick from birth, having never walked. Some one evidently had carried him to hear Paul, and, as he heard him, Paul observed him and perceived that he had faith to be healed. Then Paul said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked." There are three things that are suggested here:
(1) The Apostle saw his faith. We take it that more than the faith of the Apostle was necessary. The man who was healed himself exerted faith in the risen and seated Christ.
(2) The Apostle saw his need. Any man's heart, especially that of a Christian, would be stirred to see a helpless cripple who had never been able to use his limbs. We have often wondered whether the Christians, who possess absolute faith in the person of Christ, are filled with the compassion of Christ. Our Lord has said that part of our religion is to "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." If we see a brother in need, and shut up our bowels of compassion against him, how dwelleth the love of God in us?
(3) The Apostles knew Christ's power. Paul saw the lame man, saw his faith, saw his need, and knew that the Lord Jesus Christ had all authority and power to heal the impotent man. Therefore, he spoke unto him giving the command, "Stand upright on thy feet." That the Apostle had judged rightly both as to the faith of the man, and as to the power of Christ we know, because our Scripture reads, "And he leaped and walked."
3. Worshipped by the people. When the people saw what was done to the cripple, we read, "They lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.
With strong words did Paul address the people, refraining them from their preferred worship. The disciples were not slow to detect the objective of the crowd. Lystra and Derbe were cities given over to idolatry.
They cried, " We also are men ." He who claims to himself the attributes of God is under the curse of the Almighty. God hath said, "My glory will I not give to another." There is here a needed warning against a great deal that passes today under the name of piety.
III. HOMEWARD BOUND (Acts 14:21-23 )
As Paul returned to Lystra and to Iconium and Antioch there are three things which he did:
1. He confirmed the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith.
The Apostle knew that saints needed to be strengthened against the onslaught of the enemy. There were many who would seek to call them away from their fidelity to Christ and to the faith. Satan was going about then, as he goes about now, seeking whom he might devour.
Because of this we should join with the Apostle Paul in confirming the souls of the disciples, and in exhorting them to continue in the faith. There are too many carried about with every wind of doctrine, and the sleight of men; with cunning craftiness whereby many lie in wait to deceive.
2. He taught that through much tribulation we must enter into the Kingdom of God.
The Apostle did not give to the saints a roseate view of the Christian pathway. He told them that their way would be strewn with thorns, and covered with thistles. It was not merely "tribulation," it was "much tribulation." All of this remains true, even to this very hour. Those who really go through with God must travel the path of trial.
3. He ordained them elders in every Church.
As Paul went back over the cities he had visited he found saints had matured sufficiently, and been proved enough for appointment as elders. The men who had shown themselves worthy were placed in leadership in every Church.
IV. BACK IN ANTIOCH (Acts 14:26-28 )
After the two Apostles had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia: then they preached the Word in Perga, and went down into Attalia. After this we read:
"And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
"And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
"And there they abode long time with the disciples" (Acts 14:26-28 ).
1. Barnabas and Paul rehearsed all that God had done with them.
Mark you, the Apostles did not tell the Church of what they had done. They knew that they had done nothing of themselves. Here is a lesson we may well ponder. If we go forth in our own strength, we must surely go to defeat. If we go forth with Christ we go clothed with all authority and power. It is simply impossible for a man of God, sent forth in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit, to fail. If then, victory is given us from above, what right have we to take the glory to ourselves?
2. They rehearsed how God had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
Thank God that the door which was opened by the rent veil at the death of Christ was never closed, nor is it closed today. The message of Christ, "Go ye into all the world," was not and is not revoked.
3. They abode there long time with the disciples.
It must have been a great joy to dwell in Antioch when Paul visited there in the first place. He stayed there until the Holy Ghost sent him forth. Now once more he is tarrying in Antioch. The Church at Antioch was a greater center for the faith. That they welcomed Barnabas and Paul we are sure, and that Paul and Barnabas rejoiced to be with them is also sure. Sweet is the fellowship of saints. When brethren dwell together in unity, and love one another in Christ, the fellowship and comradeship surpasses any relationship known to man.
V. TROUBLE-MAKERS (Acts 15:1 )
The fifteenth chapter begins with the story of certain men who came down from Judaea bent on making trouble. Read Acts 15:1 : "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved."
The Bible says to mark those who cause divisions. There are some men, alas, who seem to have no greater pleasure than tearing down the work that another is building. There are some who take delight in disrupting the peace of God which pervades a church, and in scattering discord where unity has dwelt.
There are other men who are forever setting themselves up against God and seeking to bring in some new cult in order that they may draw men away from their former fellowship, and unto themselves. Let us mark what these certain men, who came down from Judea, taught.
They taught that salvation was dependent upon obedience to Mosaic ceremonials. They said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved."
This was no small matter. They were adding "circumcision," a Jewish ceremonial to the Calvary work of Christ; and, at the same time they were subtracting from the glory and power of the Cross.
Paul would gladly have yielded in matters that were not vital to the faith, but he would not for a moment permit the Cross of Christ to be made of no effect. He knew that if salvation came by circumcision, that the offence of the Cross had ceased. He knew that if salvation came by law-works it could not come by grace.
VI. THE DELEGATION SENT TO JERUSALEM (Acts 15:2-11 )
The brethren at Antioch no doubt held Paul and Barnabas in highest esteem, but they also loved the saints in Jerusalem from whence the Gospel had first come to them. So it was that the brethren determined to send Paul and Barnabas and certain others from Antioch up to Jerusalem unto the Apostles and elders about this question.
1. Received by the church.
When Paul, and Barnabas, and their partners of travel, were come to Jerusalem they were "received of the Church, and of the Apostles and elders." These men of God were quick to welcome the servants of Christ who had travelled so far with the Word of Life.
Our churches should always have the open heart and hand to returning missionaries and to faithful pastors and evangelists, who come into their midst.
We are struck with the "order" given in Acts 15:4 . They were received, first, by the Church, secondly, by the Apostles, and thirdly by the elders. The Church did not "tail" the procession. It stood first. The Apostles were not greater than the Church. The elders did not have precedence to the Church. It was the Church that welcomed and received Paul and Barnabas. In the midst of the Church were the Apostles and the elders. The Church is bigger than any man who is in it.
2. The contentions of certain Pharisees.
In Acts 15:5 we find the fly in the ointment. It was caused by a group of believers who had come into the Church from the sect of the Pharisees. These taught saying, "It was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses."
Paul and Barnabas quickly discovered that it was not the Church as a whole who backed the message of the men who came down from Judea, but it was, doubtless, this group of believing Pharisees, who were in the Church at Jerusalem.
We are not unmindful that the Pharisees had, before their conversion, been great sticklers for religious ceremonials. They had sat in Moses' seat; they had boasted their observance of Moses' Law. Now that they had come into the Church, they were trying to bring along with them the "legalities" of the Judaic Law. They not only were entangled themselves with a yoke of bondage, but they were seeking to entangle others. They had run well in obeying the Truth; but they had fallen grievously from Grace, in seeking to demand obedience to the Law. Not only this, but they were disseminating their false standards and causing dissension. The Gentiles, in order to become Christians, according to these Christian Pharisees, must first become Jews.
3. Peter's Rehearsal.
In Peter's address, there are a number of striking things that should receive our attention.
(1) God's choice of Peter to preach to the Gentiles. Peter said, "A good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the Word of the Gospel, and believe."
As Peter spoke, the whole scene of the vessel let down from Heaven, filled with unclean beasts and birds, must have come before Peter. He seemed to feel once again the horror that gripped him in the vision. Once again there came vividly into Peter's mind, the statement he had made of yore, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him."
It was of this scene that Peter spoke. He said that God had chosen him from among the disciples, that by his mouth the Gentiles should hear the Word of the Gospel, and believe. He knew that at that time God had not laid upon Cornelius and the Gentile believers the necessity of circumcision, or the need of keeping the Law of Moses. He knew that, apart from any Judaic rights or ceremonies, God had borne witness to the salvation of the Gentiles, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He had given Him unto the Jews. Peter emphasized that God had made no difference between Jew and Gentile. He said, that God had purified "their hearts by faith," and not by circumcision.
We linger a moment to suggest that God in sending Peter to Cornelius, doubtless had this very Jerusalem gathering in mind. God looks down through the years. God molds present time events, in their relationship to future events, which are yet to come to pass.
(2) Peter's warning. After the Apostle had so clearly set forth his own visit to the Gentiles, and their conversion through faith and apart from the works of the Law, Peter uttered these significant words, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"
Perhaps Paul had in memory these words from Peter, when, in the Spirit he wrote to the Galatians, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
(3) Peter's proclamation of salvation by grace. Let us quote Acts 15:11 , "But we believe that through the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they."
As we hear these closing words with which Peter spoke, we are reminded of the Holy Spirit's great philippic through Paul: "For by Grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast"
There are some who imagine that the message of salvation as presented by Paul differed from the message of salvation as presented by Peter and by James. This is utter folly, James, and Peter, and Paul believed alike. They all preached salvation by Grace, and apart from works. To James, however, it was given to emphasize that the faith that saves is a faith that works.
VII. BARNABAS AND PAUL ADDRESS THE CONFERENCE (Acts 15:12 )
After Peter had spoken, we read, "Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul."
We are truly surprised at the course of the remarks which fell from the lips of these two valiant evangelists. It appears that they utterly ignored the question of "circumcision" and of "law-works," which had been the cause of contention at Antioch; and which had caused the meeting they were now addressing. We are sure it would have been quite the natural thing for Barnabas and Paul to have unloaded their mind concerning this matter of circumcision. We are sure Paul could have made the "fur fly"; he would have found no difficulty in throwing a bombshell into the gathering. Paul knew the Scriptures, and he had been taught by God by Divine revelation, and he was perfectly able to defend himself against any of the brethren who dared to even suggest anything beyond salvation by Grace. Paul and Barnabas, however, must have kept away from this debate. The Bible gives these significant words, "Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them."
Doubtless, these men felt that the best way to settle the muted question of "circumcision" as a Gentile church requirement was to follow the course which Peter had pursued by showing how God had wrought among the Gentiles, giving them the Holy Ghost apart from circumcision, and making no difference between them and the Jews, The multitudes could not but rejoice as they heard the record of what God had done.
When Paul and Barnabas had taken their seat the spirit of contention seemed to have faded away, as fades the mist before the noonday sun. Acts 15:13 says, "And after they had held their peace."
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Acts 14". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent