Week 8 (5.29.2016)
Ground Work: Read Acts 14:8-23
From Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas traveled about 85 miles southeast to Iconium (modern day Konya) by way of the Roman highway called the Via Sebaste which connected Ephesus on the Western coast of Asia Minor with Syria in the East. This was the most important city Paul and Barnabas visited on this first journey. While there were Jews and Greeks who came to faith in the message about Jesus, there were disturbances resulting in an attempt to stone them.
Iconium is one of the oldest cities in Asia Minor dating back to the third century B.C.E. Like every city in Turkey, there is a long history of many different people groups or empires that conquered the locals. One of the most famous people to make Iconium home was the Muslim Sufi mystic of the 13th century named Rumi. He is a poet, philosopher and founder of the order of whirling dervishes.
The apostles Paul and Barnabas preached in Iconium in about 47–48 C.E. (see Acts 13:51, Acts 14:1–5 and Acts 14:21). Paul and Silas probably visited Iconium again during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey in about 50 (see Acts 16:2). They fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia. Paul wrote about this experience in his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:10-11). While we do not have any other evidence from Acts that Timothy was present during this leg of the first trip into Asia Minor, this note of Paul seems to suggest it.
Lystra is located 24 miles south of Iconium on the ancient Persian Royal Road which ran from Susa in Persia to Sardis on the Western coast of Asia Minor. Little is known from recorded history nor archeology as it has yet to be excavated. The Roman Empire made Lystra a colony in 6 C.E. Later, it was incorporated into the Roman province of Galatia, and soon afterwards the Romans built a road connecting Lystra to Iconium to the north.
The mission in Lystra is told in one sweeping narrative with three parts. In the first part, Paul is involved in a healing story of a man who had been lame from birth. This is the one time that faith is mentioned in Acts in relation to a healing. However, faith and healing are commonly together in the gospel stories (Luke 5:20; 7:9; 17:19; 18:42). It is a similar story to healings like this by Jesus and Peter (Luke 5:18-26; Acts 3:2-10).
The man leaped up and began to walk and thus so impressed the crowd that they took Paul for Hermes the messenger of the gods and his companion Barnabas for Zeus the chief Greek god. The people wanted to make sacrifices in their honor of oxen. Hero worship transcends culture. From rock stars to quarterbacks and movie actors, we love to think there are superhero’s in our midst. This cut Paul and Barnabas to the heart.
The second part of the Lystra narrative is the speech of Paul attempting to redirect the focus of the people away from themselves to God (Acts 14:15-17). Unlike the speeches of Paul in and among a Jewish audience where he uses the Hebrew Scriptures to point them to the Jesus story, in this Greek city absent of a synagogue, Paul points to Almighty God. Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, (Acts 14:15). Paul demonstrates his nimbleness in shifting his approach because of the audience.
The third part of the Lystra story (Acts 14:19-20) has Jewish leaders arrive from Antioch, Pisidia and Iconium, to Lystra to stone Paul and leave him for dead. As the disciples gathered around him, Paul stood on his feet and went back into the town. The next day, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe. On the return portion of their journey, they stopped once more at Lystra to encourage the disciples to remain faithful.
As we build relationships in a changing culture where the memory of the Jesus story is evaporating quickly like rubbing alcohol on a hot surface from many of the families of our community, it is the work of Paul in places like Lystra (Acts 14:8-20) and Athens (Acts 17:16-34) that can prove most insightful. Another biblical principle I can add here is: God gives us everything we need to do God’s work. It could be the Holy Spirit or the gifts God has given you or the resources that surround us. With eyes wide open and hearts focused in prayer we will find just what we need to be a loving friend, a good neighbor, offering words of love, kindness and faith.
Trust God. Be courageous. Be strong. Step out in faith as you follow your heart. You are the person with the story that God needs to walk alongside the person God puts in your path. This person may have something in their story that you need as well. That is just like God to do that kind of thing. On the outside it looks like crazy coincidence. With eyes wide open and a heart filled with love and compassion, you will be used by God to impact and bring people far from God and the church to a relationship that God desires for everyone. Dare to embrace God’s mission for you.
With the power of the Holy Spirit, God can transform lives for good and for God through us.
The Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the initials S. D. G. at the end of all his church compositions and also applied it to some, but not all, his secular works. This dedication was at times also used by Bach’s contemporary George Frideric Handel, for example in his Te Deum. Soli Deo Gloria means to God alone be the glory. If it is good enough for Bach to sign on his music, perhaps if you are thinking about a tattoo – SDG might be a great idea! Zechariah 4:6 says: not by my power nor my might but by the Spirit. We like Paul and Barnabas have the Holy Spirit. It is the power of God at work within us. Be humble. Do not be surprised by what God can do through you. Be courageous.
- Paul shifted focus when his audience changed as he told the story of Jesus. Where would you begin to explain your faith in Jesus to someone interested who has no faith background?
- Why is listening an important part of any relationship?
- Why is listening important in sharing your faith story?
- Why is sharing your faith important?