O PreacherIf we followed Paul’s model, we would remind each other that it’s necessary for us to go through many tribulations to enter God’s kingdom.  Paul makes his model evident during his missions trip . . .

Iconium.

Driven by persecution from Antioch of Pisidia (but leaving behind rejoicing new disciples of Jesus), Paul and Barnabas traveled 80 miles southeast through rolling hills to the commercial and agricultural town of Iconium,

Here, too, they went to the Jewish synagogue where “a great number” of both Jews and Gentiles believed.  But, as in Antioch, Jews who refused to believe stirred up Gentiles and “poisoned their minds against the brothers.”  Consequently, Paul and Barnabas “spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord” who confirmed their message of grace with signs and wonders.  When the apostles learned of a plot to stone them, they fled (Acts 14:1-5).

Lystra.

Lystra, a fortified Roman frontier outpost town, lay 18 miles south.  Paul and Barnabas sought safety there for preaching the gospel.  A man crippled in his feet from birth listened.  Seeing (somehow) he had faith to be healed, he called out to the man, “Stand up on your feet!”  By faith the man obeyed and jumped up and started walking.  The crowd thought the gods Zeus and Hermes had come in human flesh.

(“Ovid the Roman poet relates a legend of a previous visitation by Zeus and Hermes to the Phrygian region. They came in human form and inquired at one thousand homes, but none showed them hospitality. Only a poor elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon, took them in. The pair were rewarded by being spared when the gods flooded the valley and destroyed its inhabitants. The couple’s shack was transformed into a marble-pillared, gold-roofed temple, and they became its priests”–William J. Larkin, Jr., A Commentary on the Book of Acts).  Apparently the crowds’ reaction was rooted in the legend.

Paul would have none of it:  “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.  In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:15-17).

That was when Jews from Antioch and Iconium appeared and convinced the crowd to stone Paul and drag him out of town, thinking he was dead.  “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city”.  The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe (Acts 14:20).

Derbe.

Derbe was a border town of Galatia Province, 60 miles east of Lystra.  “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (Acts 14:21a).

Return.

Then, instead of  heading for Tarsus, 150 miles east, they retraced their steps to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith (Acts 14:21b,22a). They also “appointed elders for them in every church . . . [and] committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).

After the persecution he and Barnabas endured, Paul knew these new converts would face the same abuse. (Some of it came in the form of Jewish false teachers, as Paul’s later letter to the Galatians shows).  This is why they retraced their steps to strengthen and encourage the converts “to remain true to the faith” and by warning them “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Thus Paul echoed Jesus who had told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33) and “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

Tribulation Encouragement.

Paul speaks of tribulation in the context of “strengthening the souls of the disciples.”  As he and Barnabas leave, he wants them to persevere in the faith knowing  “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  They’re on their way to God’s eternal kingdom, but the road will be rough.

Does this apply to us too?  Or only to these first Christians in Asia Minor?  Paul answers years later:  ” In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Everyone.  This is “trickle-down tribulation.”   Jesus told his disciples, “if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  We who follow Jesus can expect no different treatment from the world than it gave him.

We’re blessed to enjoy religious freedom in the U.S.  However, whole generations of Christians have come to casually expect it as our right without cost.  Additionally, a diluted version of the “prosperity gospel” has infiltrated the church; consequently,  we’re shocked when a Christian couple, instead of wildly succeeding, loses their business for living their faith.

Recently, Franklin Graham warned, “I believe we’re going to see persecution in this country.  We’ve already seen many laws that have been passed that restrict our freedom as Christians. I believe it’s going to get worse, and we see no question [that the Islamic faith is]  gaining influence in Washington . . . We do have a problem in this country and we are losing our religious freedom and we’re losing it a little bit day by day.”  (Franklin Graham on”Fox and Friends”)  Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/franklin-graham-warns-american-christians-persecution-is-coming-135348/#mVmelX2ZjsRtLqO0.99.

So here’s what I hear Paul saying to me–and to you . . .

Be inspired with courage, knowing you are on your way to God’s eternal kingdom.
Keep that kingdom in view as you face necessary tribulations along the way.
Stand stubborn and strong in your faith!
This is
Jesus’ tribulation trickling down to you.

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