God Perseveres – Acts 14:21-28

paul 1st misisonary mapAs we start off the week, I want you to consider a major decision or plan in your life. It could be something you’re currently w/ or something in the past.  What is a weighty decision in your life, something you’re dealing w/ or considering?  What comes to mind, and how did you progress through it, or how are you discerning what to do, or what to decide?

At The Table, we’re in a season of prayer.  In this season of prayer we have just concluded a 5 week stretch of praying for 5 people.  And now we are praying about what we are called to do.  What action is God asking us to pursue w/ these people we’ve been praying for?  And so, we’ve been studying Acts 14, and asking “What happens when we’re on mission?” We’ve discovered that when we’re on mission we find success and opposition. And, when we know God will succeed, we rely on Him, whether we find success or opposition, we can continue on.  This week, our text is Acts 14:21-28, and we ask again, “What happens when we’re on mission?”  As we continue to pray for our friends, and as we begin to follow God’s lead in action, what can we expect?

 

Text

In Acts 14:21-28 we see Paul and crew reach the end of their journey, and then they turn back and visit the communities they traveled to along the way.  As a point of review, their journey began back in Acts 13:1.  So looking at the map on your song sheet, let’s look at where they went.  In Acts 13:1-3, they started in Antioch, where the elders of the Antioch church discern in the HS to send Paul and Barnabas out for the work of bringing the good news of JC to the non-Jewish world. This entire journey was God inspired, and God initiated. So in Acts 13:4-12, we find Paul and Barnabas preaching the word on the island of Cyprus, where the power of God overcame this opposition, and many believed.  In Acts 13:13-14:7, they sail from Cyprus to Perga in modern day Turkey. There they declare a message of grace to a diverse population.  After great success, they were forced out by powerful Jews, who saw the message of grace as inaccurate. Then they go to Pisidon-Antioch, and then to Iconium, finding success and opposition.  Then, as we saw last time, in Acts 14:8-20 they arrive in the town of Lystra.  They heal a cripple, confront misunderstanding, then the town then turns on them, and stone Paul to near death. In these passages Paul and Barnabas find a diversity of responses to the mission.

This is the journey that Paul and Barnabas are on.  In our text tonight, Acts 14:21-28, these guys make their final stop in the town of Derbe, then they begin retracing their steps.  So as we read these verses, I want you to place yourself in Paul’s shoes.  This has been his life, his calling, his struggles, his successes, and these were his babies, so to speak.  So place yourself in his head and heart and shoes, and ask yourself WHAT IS STRIKING ABOUT THIS PASSAGE FROM PAUL’S PERSPECTIVE? Acts 14:21-28:

21 After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, 22 where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. 23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 Then they traveled back through Pisidia to Pamphylia. 25 They preached the word in Perga, then went down to Attalia. 26 Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. 27 Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28 And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.

So they find success in the town of Derbe.  Then return to the towns of Lystra (where Paul was stoned), to Iconium (where he was almost stoned), and Pisidon-Antioch (where he was run out of town).  In each of these places, the Apostles had found great success and had left behind believers in JC.  Reading between the lines, we see that these people had experienced trials and persecutions.  So the Apostles encourage them to stay true to the faith and to remember the hope of JC.  As part of that encouragement in v. 22, Paul and Barnabas they set up the organization of leadership.  They oversee the appointment of elders or pastors.  This organizational piece shows their desire “that the preaching of the gospel might be perpetual and in daily use,” and to ensure that someone was there to watch over the church.[1]

So it is here that I want to see what you thought of.  FOR PAUL, WHAT IS STRIKING ABOUT THIS PASSAGE? For me there are a couple things that are striking.  1st, Paul is reentering places of hostility.  His profile must have been discreet and observant as he sought out his children of the faith.  The 2nd striking thing is one that I want to focus on.  It’s striking to me that Paul’s appoints elders among the very young of faith.  These pastors he helped set in place had been believers for no more than a year, and now he is entrusting the sustainability of the ministry to them.  To me this is striking. Imagine what that would have felt like, for Paul.

 

Trouble

The trouble for Paul would have been to let go. After all this had been His calling, his struggle, his success, and these were his babies.  This journey had been “his” project, and it may have been tough to delegate and trust his work to these young ones.

This makes us pose the question Paul may have asked: Where do we place our trust?  As you consider the major decision or plan that is on your mind, or as you look back at a major decision or plan – Where do you place your trust?  Often times our plans are rooted in our wisdom.  Whether it’s conscious or not, we have a knowledge and we work w/ it.  We consider these facts or experiences, and we set either a passive or active course of action.  We weigh the resources, advantages and disadvantages, and act.  It is rooted in what we know and what we feel we need.  So as you consider your current decision, how much are you trusting your own knowledge or your own planning?

In our prayer season at The Table, I think about the friends I’ve been praying for.  I know these guys, and I can make an educated guess as to how they will respond to the good news of JC.  I’ve been making subtle, subconscious plans, based off of those guesses, as to how I will move next. Where have I been placing my trust in this scenario?  For Paul and us, the trouble is that we have the tendency to trust in ourselves.

 

Difference

I believe the good news of the text speaks against this.  Despite all the opposition in these towns God had persevered in the lives of the local believers.  In v. 23, it says Paul and Barnabas turned the care of these local elders to God, “IN WHOM THEY BELIEVED.”  In the Greek the belief of the elders mentioned here is in the “perfect” tense, meaning the faith of the elders had been established and they had this faith for some time.  God had persevered in the lives of these leaders despite trial and sufferings.  And so when it says they turned these elders to the care of God, we can know that Paul and Barnabas believed w/ conviction that God would persevere again.  They knew that this had always been God’s mission, and this again shows the reliance the Apostles had on God.  They knew God would provide wisdom for these elders, and would provide the gifts needed for the mission to continue in these towns.[2]  They knew God would persevere.  So it may have been hard for Paul to release his successes to these young leaders, but he knew the reality of the power of God to persevere.

So consider that major decision that’s on your mind, that plan that you are working on, and ask yourself where does the reality of God’s perseverance play into your thoughts and plans? Imagine what it would be like if you released a little more of the situation into God’s hands, knowing He will fulfill His purposes.  Imagine how that would feel.  I believe this is what Paul did in these towns.  He gave the successes to God and committed his friends to the care of God.  And I get the sense that as Paul trusted in God, he left those towns w/ hope and peace.  And that’s the difference, really.  Trusting in God, gives us peace. Trusting in God, gives us peace.

 

Challenge

So what will you do? How will you move forward in that major decision? And how will you move forward w/ the friends you’ve been praying for this season?  What happens when we’re on mission?  God fulfills His purposes.

Considering those you have been praying for, I’d like you to consider what you will do specifically to deepen your relationship w/ them in the next 2 weeks.  I invite you to write your names down on page sometime, and then daydream what action item you will write next to their name.  Remember, this is God’s mission and not your’s. So what would He have you do? Next I want you to set a date to act.

Pray in faith for God to show you how you can act, and then set a time and do it.  This is His mission.  He is already going before you, and he will continue to be w/ you.  So move in boldness, b/c God perseveres.

Amen.



[1] John Calvin. Commentary: Acts. p. 27

[2] John Calvin. Commentary: Acts. p. 31

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