Sunday, 20 October 2013

Acts 14 - All things to All people

Looking back things often fall into place that were hard to appreciate at the time … maybe you didn’t even notice them.

When Paul was planning what he hoped would be the climax to his mission travels – a journey to Rome and beyond to the far West of the Roman empire and  Spain – plans that were not to work out, Paul looked back on his ministry.

He might have been looking back all the way to the start of his missionary work here on the first of his missionary journeys.

What he has to say in 1 Corinthians 9 captures the genius of his work and indeed the genius of the man Paul.

 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

It was the genius of Paul to be able to speak in the language of the people he was with.  He spanned the different worlds of his time.  He could come alongside the slave and speak in their language, the Jew and speak in their language, the gentile and speak in their language, the weak and speak in their language.

I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some.

That genius is worked out in this first Missionary Journey.

A large part of chapter 13 is devoted to an occasion when Paul spoke in a Synagogue to Jewish people.

Starting with a magisterial telling of the Old Testament story he then jumps to the story of Jesus and homes in on the difference he makes to people.

In chapter 14 we see Paul moving beyond the four walls of the synagogue out into the Gentile world and speaking the language of the gentiles.

But I think it was paying careful attention to what happens.

As the chapter begins we join Paul and Barnabas on their travels as they arrive in Iconium, go to the Jewish synagogue and speak in such a way that a great number of Jew and Greeks become believers.

There is no summary of the talk – your guess is it’s much the same as the talk recorded at length in chapter 13.

Then it’s the ‘unbelieiving Jews’ – the word could be Judeans.  It could be the people who are disturbed at the move away from the power base of the Jewish world – something uneasy about the all-encompassing message of the Jesus who draws Gentile and Jew together into the love of God.

The message divides people.  And  Paul and Barnabas find they are treated in exactly the way so many years before Stephen had been treated by among others Paul, or Saul as he was then known.

Notice how Luke is careful to note that it is the rulers – it is not all the Jews as so tragically Christian history was later to claim.  It was particularly the rulers stirring thems up tomaltreat them and to stone them.

So it was that the apostles fled to Lystra and Derbe.

Growing up in Leicester I always thought they came to Leicester and Derby!

Then we come to a significant moment.

Something I want to pause at for a moment or two.

In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk.

Haven’t we heard that kind of story somewhere before.

Look at Luke 14 and you see that Jesus came specially for ‘the crippled’  I don’t like that word.  People who are immobilised, incapcacitaged – and so left out of society.  There are others.  The man born blind.  The person who sat by the pool of Bethsaida waiting for the waters to bubble.  The blind men.  The leprosy sufferers.

What Paul does here is what Jesus did.

He saw the reject – the outcast – the incapacitated – and be brought healing.

I often think there are two parts to Jesus’ ministry.  He heals hurting people and he preaches the Kingdom of God.

Deeds and words go together.

Last week in Pisidian Antioch we saw how the message must focus on Jesus.

Here in Lystra we see that with the message goes the action.

Just as Jesus did, so Paul did.

And so must we.

Where people hurt we are to bring healing.

That ministry of healing is at the heart of what we are about as a church.   The expectation that God in Christ will touch us to bring healing and wholeness.

All sorts of things to explore, things to come back to.

Healing is not the same as cure.

Cure may not come but healing can happen.

I tbrings peace, it brings calm – it becomes part of a larger overall healing process.

And it brings change.

As we pray for one another healing comes – there is a peace that makes all the difference.

It works at all sorts of levels.  Maybe at this level.  It’s not part of my experience.  Revival happening in Cwm Bran and makes a lot of this kind of miracle – someone holding a wheel chair aloft.

I don’t know.

But I do know about the power to restore, the power to make whole, the healing that makes a difference in a deep down kind of way.

The reaction here among the gentiles is fascinating.

The people look to Paul and Barnabas and they see something of God in what they do …. And then they say they are gods become human.

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

Isn’t it interesting.  Before getting to the nub of the matter of what’s going on here it tells us soething about the dynamic between these two.  Zeus in the  Greek panteheon is the supreme god.  So when Barnabas is identified as Zeus, the implication is that he is the leader.

For various reasons, one of which  will soon become apparent, we think of Paul as the key figure.  But at this point the dominant of the two is Barnabas.   Paul’s task is the spokesmena.   Maybe that’s because he can be all things to all people as in a moment we will see.

It’s over in Caesarea that something similar has happened to King Herod Agrippa the first – the crowds acclaimed him as god – and he revelled in it.  And got his comeuppance.

It is very different here.

No, no, no.

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you,

Tremendous humility here.

They are doing as Christ did.  It’s interesting that Jesus was not recognised as one of the greek gods.  What he was recognised as was something subtly different.  He wsa recognised as ‘the son of God’ – that links him into the Cult of the Roman Emperor.  He was seen as on a par with the Emperor – more than that as the one to whom allegiance was owed by all.

Then comes the moment when we see the genius of Paul.

Remember these are people steeped inGreek culture he is speaking to.

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. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’

It’s wonderful good news that Paul shares – and it points to the God of creation – who sustains that creation with water and food.  Wonderful lgood news.

He speaks the language of his hearers – and points to the God of creation.  The book of nature is one paul values in getting the Good news across.

Things get worse for Paul … what he had supervised as Stephen had been stoned to death happens to him as well …

18Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

19 But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.

This is pretty grim.

Pretty menacing.

We sometimes measure the success of what we do by its popularity.

What Paul did he did because it was right.

If in bringing healing to hurting people he was standing in the footsteps of Jesus, as he was stoned to the point almost of death he took seriously the invitation of Christ to deny oneself, take up the cross and follow him.

A model here for us – to do as Christ did, to share the Good news using the language of our hearers, and to give ourselves in the service of Christ regardless of its popularity.

There’s a wonderful sense of solidarity in the next image.

20But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Then comes a wonderful insight.

Paul and Barnabas retrace their steps – and revisit the places they have been to making sure that there is a firmly established Church in each place ready to be the body of Chrsit in that place.

After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’ 23And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe

I love those two things they did

  1. they strengthened the souls of the disciples
  2. and encouraged them to continue in the faith

They then return to that second city of the Roman empire Antioch in Syria and report back to the church that had sent them out all they had done.

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. 27When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 28And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

How wonderful that they had opened a door of faith … and after all those travels it is no small surprise they should stay in Antioch for some time.

To Jew in chapter 13 at Pisidian Antioch and to  Gentile in chapter 14 in Lystra Paul and Barnabas shared the  Good news, opened a door of faith drawing on the genius of Paul to speak the language of whoever it was he speaking to!

The door of faith is open to Gentile as to Jew … or is it?

There are rumblings back in Jerusalem and those rumblings cannot be ignored.  Though we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks before we find out what those rumblings were all about.

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