Through Hardships into the Kingdom

fence_6979cpSuppose that in visiting a major city on the East coast you stray away from the touristy areas into a questionable neighborhood, and are mugged. You might say, “I’m never going back there again.” But Paul, not having been mugged for his wallet or phone, but rather stoned and left for dead because of the gospel he preached, goes back to visit Lystra and the other cities where he had preached (Acts 14:21-28).

Endure hardship boldly. Do not be surprised by suffering. Hardships happened to Paul (Acts 13:50; 14:5-6, 19-20) and you can expect them as well. The assurance of some TV evangelists that God is providing you with a wonderful life right now is simply not true. You are united to Christ by faith. Union with Christ involves suffering with him as well as sharing in future glory, Romans 8:17ff; Philippians 1:29-30. They are the result of being united with Christ in a world that is still suffering under the curse of sin and the effects of the fall. Included in those sufferings are not only the big things might think of—Paul’s being driven out of cities, stoned, left for dead—but also all the friction and frustration that comes from living as one who belongs to Christ but is still in this sin-cursed world. Cancer strikes. Friends abandon or betray. Work relationships turn ugly and difficult. All of these are part of the hardships through which believers go. The Psalmist in Psalm 74 is grieving the unthinkable: God has allowed his temple to be destroyed and his people taken captive. Yes, non-Christians suffer some of the same things. But you suffer them as one who belongs to the risen, ascended Savior. Be prepared for these hardships. They do not mean that God has abandoned you. They do not mean that your faith has crumbled. Continue reading “Through Hardships into the Kingdom”

Turn to the Living God

rain_11361cpA local myth described a visit to the area near Lystra by the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes disguised as humans. That may have contributed to the readiness of the citizens to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas when they healed a lame man as they preached in that city (Acts 14:1-20).

Turn from worthless things. The gods of Lystra were myths, gods created in human form. Paul and Barnabas, having preached in Iconium and having found that the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, was a divisive as Jesus had said it would be (Matthew 10:34-39), moved on to Lystra. As they were preaching, the healing of a lame man triggered a startling reaction from the local population, as they attempted to offer sacrifices to them, thinking they were gods. The local gods were the product of mankind’s imaginations, gods in human form with all the foibles, petty jealousies, and sins which characterize man. Isaiah 44 mocks the making and worshiping of images that represent a false deity. Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 10:19-21. A temple to Zeus stood just outside the gate of the city, and the legend kept the inhabitants alert to the possibility of a visit by the gods. The miracle of healing the lame man triggered an attempt to sacrifice to the two apostolic missionaries. Paul and Barnabas were barely able to restrain them. Continue reading “Turn to the Living God”