“THE GOSPEL GOES TO GALATIA”
When will Jesus return? When will this world see His glory? We know it will because God told Moses it will.
21b “…all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD.”
And it wasn’t only Moses; God also told Solomon, Isaiah, and Habakkuk the same thing. Listen to them.
Psalm 72:18-19 (Solomon speaking)
18 Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders.
19 And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.
3 And one (angel) called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
14 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”
Jesus’ apostles thought He would come back to establish His kingdom and display His glory in their own lifetimes. Only days before His crucifixion Luke 19:11 says that the apostles, “…supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” Then, in Acts 1:6, right before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” His response was not what they expected.
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;
8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
The church was born on the Day of Pentecost and the apostles were Jesus’ witnesses in Jeru-salem, Judea, and Samaria. Before they died they would all have a part in taking the gospel far beyond what is modern day Israel. But it would be Saul of Tarsus, born again to become the Apostle Paul, who would spend his entire life taking the gospel, “to the remotest part of the earth.” Yet today, two thousand years after Jesus’ command was given, the job remains unfinished. Why? The church has been obeying the Great Commission, hasn’t it? Why are there still so many places where the gospel has yet to be preached? Why is it taking so long?
An argument could be made that the church hasn’t sent out enough missionaries, and that many of those it has sent out have been ill-prepared for the task. Some who have gone out have done so for the wrong reasons. But worse than that, some who have gone out to the remotest part of the earth have taken a false Jesus with them. One example of that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons. They send missionaries all over the world, but they deny Jesus’ deity. Mormons teach that He is a just another created being – like you, like me, and like Satan. Think about it. If you teach a false Jesus, you cannot possibly preach anything other than a false gospel, can you?
But there’s another reason why the gospel has yet to reach into the remotest part of the earth.
It’s because God is patient and merciful. The longer He holds back judgment, the more peo-ple will come to faith in His Son. The true gospel will be preached until the true Church of Jesus Christ (His Bride) is complete. Only then will He come and take her to His home in heaven. We call that the Rapture of the Church. Every man, woman, or child who believes the gospel and receives Christ brings us one soul closer to that moment when…
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
But the Rapture of the Church will not signal the end of gospel preaching. On the contrary, after the church is in heaven, Revelation 7 tells us that God will raise up 144,000 Jewish evangelists to preach His gospel. Their preaching will bring huge numbers of people to sav-ing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 7:9 says that it will be, “…a great multitude, which no one could count…”
But that great multitude of Revelation 7 cannot be saved until they’ve heard the gospel. And the 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will preach it to them cannot preach it until they are set apart and sealed by God. And those 144,000 evangelists cannot be set apart and sealed by God until after the church is raptured. And the church cannot be raptured until it is com-plete – until that last soul who will be saved is saved – until the last person God has chosen to hear the gospel and receive Christ does so. But we are an impatient lot, and we want to know why it’s taking so long for Jesus to finish building His church, to come for us, and to set the wheels in motion for His Glorious Appearing at the Second Coming. Here’s why…
*2 Peter 3:3-9
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mock-ing, following after their own lusts,
4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?
For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water,
6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
God is patient and God is merciful. He proves it every time a sinner who deserves death and hell comes to faith in Christ. And that only happens when one of God’s own preaches the gospel and the one who hears it believes it and receives Jesus. That gospel preaching began the moment the church was born in Acts 2.
Now, as we come to Acts 14, we’ll be with Paul and Barnabas as they obey Jesus’ com-mand to be His witnesses “to the remotest part of the earth.” They will be taking the gospel into southern Galatia. By the way, unlike Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessa-lonica, Galatia isn’t a city; it’s an entire region in what is today central Turkey.
II. Review (to put everything in perspective…)
In Acts 13:4-12 Paul, Barnabas, and young John Mark had left Antioch (#7 on your map) and gone on what is now known as the first missionary journey. They sailed to Salamis on the island of Cyprus (#9) where they traveled to the city of Paphos (#10). There they met the Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, and were opposed by Elymas, a false prophet who called himself “Bar-Jesus” (son of Jesus). What happened? Paul and Barnabas preached Christ, Sergius Paulus was saved, and Elymas was miraculously blinded and effectively silenced.
In Acts 13:13-52 Paul and Barnabas (John Mark left them and went home) sailed from Cyprus to Perga and went on to Pisidian Antioch (#15 on your map). They preached the gospel in the synagogue and caused such a stir that they were asked to return on the following Sabbath and tell the people more about Jesus. When they did so most of the Jews rejected the truth while most of the Gentiles believed it. In v. 46 Paul and Barnabas told those who did not believe that they were responsible for the fate that awaited them. And in v. 48 it says that those whom God had appointed to eternal life believed.
It was that paradox that prompted us to take the last two Sundays to delve into the mysteries of God’s sovereignty and predestination, and man’s responsibility and free will. Today we return to the text and join Paul and Barnabas as they arrive in Iconium (#13 on your map).
As we go through Acts 14 we’ll see four of the spiritual gifts in operation as Paul and Bar-nabas use their God-given gifts of prophecy (preaching), teaching, exhortation (encourage-ment), and leadership. But before we go to the text let me just say a few words about the spiritual gifts. The NT speaks of at least nineteen such gifts. They are not human talents or special abilities. A great singing voice is a talent, not a spiritual gift. Can a great voice be used for God’s glory? Of course! But there is no “spiritual gift of singing.” A brilliant mind that is able to quickly work out complex physics or math problems may indicate a spe-cial ability, but there is no “spiritual gift of intelligence.” Can a brilliant mind be used for God’s glory? Of course! But even uncommon intelligence is not a spiritual gift as Scripture defines it. How does Scripture define spiritual gifts?
They are gifts of grace given to all true believers when they come to saving faith. It may take a while for new believers to recognize what God has given them, and it may take longer for them to begin to put their gift(s) to use, ministering to God’s people, but that is what they are for. In fact, the Church of Jesus Christ cannot survive without them.
1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.
6 And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.
7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
Today we’ll focus on the gift of prophecy, the ability to clearly and powerfully proclaim the truth of God.
*Acts 14:1-18 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
1 And it came about that in Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks.
2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embit-tered them against the brethren.
3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.
4 But the multitude of the city was divided; and some sided with the Jews; and some with the apostles.
5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them,
6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra, and Derbe, and the surrounding region;
7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
8 And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.
9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well,
10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.
11 And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.”
12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.
13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifices with the crowds.
14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out
15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them.
16 “And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;
17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
18 And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
One of the benedictions we often read to close our services is this…
1 Peter 4:10-11
10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
11 Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
On the first leg of the first missionary journey Paul and Barnabas had been faithful. In Acts 13 we saw them use the spiritual gifts that God had given them on the island of Cyprus.
As a result of their faithfulness on Cyprus, God gave them another opportunity to serve Him. That is the way it works, you know. If you want to do great things for God, you need to start by doing small things for Him. In Matthew 25:21 Jesus spoke the words every true Chris-tian longs to hear. He said, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”
An opportunity for Paul and Barnabas to be faithful in many things came in Pisidian Anti-och where Acts 13:50 tells us that they were persecuted for their faith and driven away. Did they quit and go home? Hardly! They went on into southern Galatia and came to the city of Iconium (#13) located about eighty miles east of Antioch.
Iconium, to use a common modern term, was a “multi-cultural” city that was populated by native Galatians, Greeks, Romans, and Jews. In Acts 14:1 Paul and Barnabas went directly to the synagogue (“To the Jew first…”) and preached so powerfully that many of the Jews and Gentile converts believed. But just as had happened in Pisidian Antioch, the unbelievers did not like what they heard. The NASB says they “disbelieved.” The Greek is “apĕithĕō.” It means “disobedience through unbelief.” The NT often connects disobedience with unbelief.
18 And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?
19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
It was the disobedient unbelievers in Iconium who poisoned the public’s opinion of Paul and Barnabas. Because of that Acts 14:3 says that God gave them a stronger testimony and the ability to work miracles (signs and wonders) in order to authenticate their message. What took place in Iconium was the very same thing that had taken place back in Pisidian Antioch. In vv. 4-5 it says that the whole city of Iconium was divided. But the unbelieving Jews man-aged to work up enough of a frenzy against the apostles that they were about to be stoned.
Think about this for just a moment. In Acts 14:1, 3 the good news of salvation in Christ is both delivered and authenticated to a religious community in Iconium. In vv. 2, 4-5 their re-sponse to the good news is to plan the stoning (the premeditated murder) of those who brought them the good news. We say, “This is crazy!” But didn’t Jesus say He would be hated for no reason? And didn’t He say, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you (John 15:18)?” And hasn’t that hatred been seen for two thousand years wherever the gospel has been preached? And isn’t that exactly what ISIS is doing today? Can you see why the Bible tells us that unbelief is not only disobedience, but also spiritual blindness?
By the way, just so there is no confusion about who Barnabas actually was.
In v. 4 Paul and Barnabas are both called apostles. But only Paul is a true apostle. There were only thirteen true apostles. They were the twelve and Paul. They had all been called personally by Jesus Himself, and they were all eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. The word “apostle” is transliterated from the Greek “apŏstŏlŏs.” Used as a noun it means “messen-ger.” Used as a verb it means “to send.” Thus Barnabas, a “sent messenger,” was an apos-tle only in a generic sense. The office of apostle ceased with the passing of John at the end of the first century, a.k.a the “Apostolic Age.” But the work of an apostle continues today whenever someone goes out with the message of Christ. It is in that very limited sense that both Barnabas and our own missionaries today are apostles.
In today’s text both “apostles,” Paul and Barnabas, found out about their pending stoning. In v. 7 it says that they left Iconium and fled to Lystra (#12). Lystra was only about twenty miles south of Iconium, but it was far enough to take them out of harm’s way. In Lystra they did the same thing they had done in Iconium – they preached the gospel.
In vv. 8-10 one of those who heard it was a man who had been born lame. Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Paul could see that he “…had the faith to be made well (v. 9).” What does that mean? Where did his faith come from? First and foremost, we know that his faith came from God. But what prompted it? Why there, and why then?
In the preceding verses we’re told that the gospel had already been preached. This lame man had already heard it and been convicted by it. Paul knew that a miracle would establish his authority and confirm the validity of the gospel. Remember that this man had never walked – not one step. Physically speaking, and from a human perspective, he would not even have known how to walk or even stand up. And everyone there knew it!
I like the way Luke describes the moment. In v. 9 Paul, “…fixed his gaze upon him.” Now look once more at v. 10. Paul was gazing (staring intently) at the man and “…said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And he leaped up and began to walk.” Obviously, God had performed a miracle. But what may be less obvious is that the lame man had been given enough faith to obey Paul’s command. Let me ask you a question. Do you think that he would have been made well if his response to Paul’s command was, “What’s wrong with this guy? Is he blind? Can’t he see that I cannot stand up or walk, and I never have?”
We can learn an important spiritual lesson from this encounter in Lystra. In Ray Stedman’s commentary on Acts – “God’s Unfinished Book” – he says…
“Though the lame man had never walked in his life, he had faith enough to obey Paul’s words – and he walked. It doesn’t matter if your disability is physical, emo-tional, or spiritual. The moment you begin to obey God’s Word is the moment your bondage ends and you begin to walk by faith. This miracle is a parable for all of us who are broken in some area of our lives.” (p. 189)
As believers, we see a miracle for what it is, and we worship the God who performs it.
But unbelief is different. Unbelief sees the same miracle, but it does not worship the God who performs it. In Acts 14:11-13 the unbelievers in the crowd immediately give the glory to their pagan gods. In v. 11 they say, “The gods have come down to us.” They assume that Paul and Barnabas are Zeus and Hermes. (In Greek mythology Zeus [Jupiter] was the king of the gods, and Hermes [Mercury] was the messenger of the gods.) In v. 13 the pagan priests make pre-parations to worship these “gods” and make sacrifices to them.
Look around you today. Has anything changed? How many people do you know who reject God’s truth, even when they see it played out in the lives of others, while at the same time doggedly refusing to let go of the lies they’ve always believed? Listen, this is what Satan does. He is the great deceiver. He turns everything upside down, inside out, and backwards. Case in point – what will Satan’s greatest deception be? Will it not be the Antichrist? But in the meantime John tells us that the spirit of antichrist is all around us.
2 John 7
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknow-ledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
And so the world continues to mistake lies for truth and truth for lies. In Acts 14:14-15 Paul’s and Barnabas’ response is dramatic. If anyone on this earth knows that he or she isn’t a god, it’s a Bible-believing Christian. Yet being considered a “little god” is heavily promoted by many of those in the modern Word-Faith movement that’s so prevalent among televangelists today. They refuse to acknowledge human pride as the one thing that will keep a person from coming to saving faith.
Rather than preaching and teaching humility and spiritual brokenness, they feed human pride by telling their followers what they want to hear. It’s no wonder that most of them have become outrageously wealthy. They teach, “You are all little gods! If you want something, just speak the word and you’ll have it. Are you sick? Just rebuke the sickness and it will go away. Do you need money? Just name it and claim it. It will be yours. Prove your faith! How? Send me a love offering!” Who believes this stuff? Those who are ignorant of the truth and do not know their Bibles. Who promotes and teaches such garbage? Here are just a few of the more well-known Word-Faith preachers: Kenneth Copeland, Paul Crouch, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joseph Prince.
Did Paul and Barnabas have their egos boosted when the people of Lystra hailed them as “little gods”? They did not! They tore their robes – a Jewish practice when hearing or see-ing blasphemy against God – and they railed against the pagans who thought they were any-thing other than flesh and blood human beings. They said, “We are also men of the same nature as you…(v.15).”
They explained that they had come to Lystra to tell the people of the one true God, the One who made the heavens and the earth.
They had come to tell the people of the One who had already blessed them through the crea-tion and the fruits of the earth, that all men, believer and unbeliever alike, enjoyed every day of the lives. In v. 17 Paul and Barnabas said that if the people of Lystra had nothing else, they had the natural creation all around them as a witness to the God of creation. This is the same argument that Paul will later use when he writes Romans.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse.
Therefore, there was no excuse for worshipping man-made idols, mythological gods, or even the creation itself. Worship the Creator! Neither Paul nor Barnabas were He, but they had come to preach His message to the people of Lystra. However, reason and logic do not open blind eyes, and instead of believing them, most of the Lystrans insisted on worshipping Paul and Barnabas. Back in v. 16 they told the people of Lystra that for generations God had let them “…go their own ways.” He had not intervened in their lives. The result was that they had sunk so deep into paganism that they were totally blind to the truth. When it finally was revealed to them, they rejected it. It didn’t matter what they were told. Their minds were made up and closed. You know people like that, don’t you?
What a lesson! It’s really the lesson of Romans 1. When people go on rejecting revealed truth again and again, year after year, and generation after generation, God will eventually let them go their own way. When He does so is up to Him and unknown to us, but the day will come when He will do just that. He did that with Pharaoh, and He will eventually do it with obstinate and continual unbelief. Three times in Romans 1 (vv. 24, 26, 28) God simply “…(gives) them over in the lusts of their hearts, degrading passions, and a depraved mind.”
But God always has a remnant. Next time we’ll see that even in a pagan city like Lystra, there will always be some who believe.
What can we take with us today? May it be this: When we tell unbelievers about Jesus we need to remember that we’re speaking with people who are spiritually blind. Their intellect is not the issue. It isn’t their brains we want to reach, it’s their hearts. We may be able to win an intellectual argument, but only God and His Word can reach their hearts.
Why not ask God to put a “Lystran” in your path this week? Tell him or her the truth and see what God does with it. ~ Pray ~