Birthing God's Rescue Plan | James Stevenson
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 Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 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 perform signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to ill-treat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel.
In Lystra and Derbe
8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 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.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.’ 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
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. 20 But after the disciples had gathered round him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
The return to Antioch in Syria
21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said. 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. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Purpose, persistence, prayer
God sent Jesus to restore us to a relationship with the Father. When we place our faith in him - the one who has lived, died, and lives again – he fills us with his Spirit and starts to change us from the inside out. As believers share this amazing Good News with the world, it is changed by the Gospel or rejects it. Unfortunately our country has for the most part rejected the Gospel. In Bristol today 95 per cent of those who are dying have had no meaningful contact with Church.
This could sound very discouraging, but it seems that when things are at their bleakest, God births new beginnings. We can look at China today with thousands of new Christians every week, or Iran with an ever-expanding underground Church, and take heart. Today God is birthing a new movement in Europe and we are part of it. Just as one prepares for a baby’s birth, not knowing exactly when that will occur, so we need to prepare now for this new ‘birth’, here in Bristol and beyond.
How should we prepare? As we read about Paul and Barnabas taking the Gospel to Turkey, three points stand out. They had a strong sense of purpose – they were to preach the Good News wherever they went. They were persistent in the face of opposition and downright hostility. And everything they did was underpinned by prayer.
There have always been outstanding individuals in the Church, like these two. But Jesus doesn’t just work through people like them – whoever he lives in, he breathes his purpose into, he gives the strength to be persistent and he sends to others.
At the start of the year B&A put out a call to establish a daily rhythm of prayer. If you find consistent, heartfelt praying tricky, you are not alone! This is a primary battlefield for Christians, in the war of good against evil. But Jesus who prayed and fasted, now is birthing a prayerful church. So, whenever you feel moved to pray, don’t hesitate! That hunger to pray more comes from him, so be sure to respond.
We have a responsibility as a church and as individuals to be attentive and to join in with what God is doing in our lives. Do you need to pray for a stronger sense of purpose? Or for more persistence when you get discouraged? Do you need more help to maintain a rhythm of prayer? Whatever you identify as your own particular need, you can be sure that Jesus will help you if you ask him.