Sermon for Sunday Evening, February 26th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 14:1-7 ESV] 1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
I. Preaching in the Synagogue
A pattern continues. In each place so far in this First Missionary Journey we’ve found Paul and Barnabas going first to the Jewish synagogue to speak about Christ.
This alone is a notable thing.
It may show us that the cultural divide between Christianity and Judaism was not yet total. Christians are still entering into the synagogue. Of course, theologically the divide occurred in the early years after Christ’s death and resurrection as the Christians proclaimed him divine, but the Jews rejected the him as Messiah. But the cultural divide between Christian and Jew took some time. From the Roman perspective, they were the same peoples. And many of the early Christians were Jewish, so you can see how the Romans views the Christians and Jew as much the same.
So it is that Paul and Barnabas went, without issue, to the Synagogue.
And this shows us also that Paul and Barnabas are not afraid, nor do they think that the synagogue is the realm of someone other than God.
As the old Dutch minister Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
Christ is Lord, even in the synagogue. Even in the Mosque, even on the street.
Now, Christ might not be proclaimed in these places. He might not be worshipped there. But he is Lord there nonetheless.
So Paul and Barnabas go to the synagogue at Iconium. You can see in your Bible’s map that tis is a city in Galatia in Asia Minor. These could be the very same people that Paul writes to in his later letter to the Galatians. And he’ll pass through this city in each of his 3 missionary journeys.
Iconium is down the road from Pisidian Anitoch where we saw Paul and Barnabas last week. Next on the road will be Lystra as they head back to their sending church of Antioch Syria.
So they are heading home, but preaching along the way. This makes me feel a little better about my common practice of preaching during vacation. That is, not taking a vacation. I should work on that, but it is often convenient to preach at a church when you are there. And in Paul’s day travel was all the more challenging, so he would certainly be keen to preach wherever he was.
The preaching of Paul and Barnabas at Iconium must be considered a great success. Verse 1 tells us “A great number of both Jews and Gentiles believed.”
A great number.
This is a great revival. But it isn’t not a “re” vival. That is, these aren’t people who once had faith, lost it, and are coming back. This is a vivification, a bringing to life by the Holy Spirit of those who until then knew not of Jesus Christ.
So a great number believed. Both of Jews and Gentiles. We saw before how Paul would now be seeking the salvation of the Gentiles. But this is never to the exclusion of the Jews. His preaching, and the general call of the Gospel, goes out to all peoples in all places.
And the beauty, a beauty, of the Gospel is seen in that it brings together people. The Jews and Gentiles, previously apart in culture and religion now come together under the banner of Christ.
II. A Divided City.
But in the very next verse we find that Iconium is a divided city.
“But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gnetiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.”
So at Iconium both there were, after Paul’s speech, both Jews and Gentiles who believed.
And at Iconium there were both Jews and Gentiles who sought to mistreat and stone Paul and Barnabas.
So the division is no longer Jew and Gentile, but believer and unbeliever. The division is over whether or not Jesus is Lord.
No wonder if is later said of such Christian preachers like Paul and Barnabas “they are turning the whole world upside down.”
And, in the end of our text we find that Paul and Barnabas were forced to flee Iconium. So they headed to Lystra, Derbe, and the cities of Lycaonia and to the surrounding country.
That is a nice reference to country preaching. It is not always to city-folk that they preach. There are believers to be gathered up in the countryside as well. And, interestingly, when Paul writes “to the Galatians” that is an area, Galatia, and not a city like Thessalonica, Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, or Philippi. Now, many letters even to cities would be handed around to the whole area, but in this place we have the only letter written to an area (Galatia) rather than to a city (Iconium).
III. A United and Uniting Gospel
Wherever Paul and Barnabas went there was indeed division and trouble.
But Paul and Barnabas themselves, with all Christians, were united in the Gospel, and it was the Gospel that united them.
When the unbelieving Jews strirred up trouble in Iconium they were trying to tear Paul and Barnabas away from the people.
But, what did they do? What did Paul and Barnabas do?
“So they remained a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.”
They didn’t give up because of the trouble.
And they didn’t let the evil one separate them from each other or from the people.
Rather, they continued to preach the Gospel, united together and working to unite others to them in the church.
As Christians we are diverse in many ways. Age, background, interests etc. But we are united on the Gospel and we are united in Christ and with Christ.
The key passage on Union with Christ is found in Romans 6
[Rom 6:5-11 ESV] 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In short, we shall go where Christ has gone (to heaven) because we are united with him. And no one can separate us.
These persecutors of Paul and Barnabas, persecutors of the Gospel, only tend to spread the word even more as they cause Paul and Barnabas to go to place after place. Then more ground is covered and the Gospel is brought to all the nations of the earth, uniting people to Christ in all lands.
Though they fled, they continued to preach the Gospel.
So let us considered some points from this passage.
1. Successful ministry creates opposition
That is the way one Bible summary states it. I might say “the Gospel creates opposition.”
If you’re at a church that is not at odds with the world, you’re not in a true church.
And if you’re a Christians who is not at odds with the world, then you’re not a Christian.
The Biblical Christian life is something different, guaranteed to find opposition from the world. They will think you crazy when you say you’re waiting for marriage. They’ll think you’re wasting a perfectly good weekend day that they use for entertainment while you rest and worship the Lord. They’ll call you a bigot when you call sin sin.
The Gospel unites us to Christ, but the Gospel divides us from the world. And all the better for it, as the world one day, on the Day of the Lord, Peter tells us, shall be no more. He says
[2Pe 3:10 ESV] 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
But we have eternal life.
2. A Call to Gospel Perseverance
Then, second, we have a call to Gospel perseverance. To proclaim the word of God in season and out. And to all peoples. I’ve said before that I would preach wherever I’m allowed to proclaim the Gospel. I would preach in a liberal church, if they allowed it. I’d even preach in the Synagogue if I had some assurance that my mic wouldn’t be cut.
But, for Christians who are not preachers, you have a call to Gospel perseverance as well. Not so much proclaiming it (thought that is important to), but believing it. Believing the Gospel despite the persecution. If you lose a job because you won’t work on Sundays, or won’t contribute to immoral practices of your company, then shake the dust of your boots when you leave and persevere in your walk in another job.
I worked for an Aerospace company that was at one point bought out by Sikorsky helicopters out of Connecticut. And there was some moral issues. I had some coworkers who were not glad that our commercial aviation outfit now was associated with a defense contractor. And, you know what “defense” means. Well, if often means offense. Helicopters, planes, military equipment of all sorts is used these days without declaring war and used in sometimes questionable ways.
So it may be that you don’t want to work for such a company. I don’t think you’d necessarily have to resign from such, but if it is troubling your conscience you would have to.
Then, also, I remember Sikorsky telling us how in some foreign countries like China, Malaysia, etc., you basically couldn’t do straight business. You had to bribe officials. They said they’d never do this, though I have my doubts. A country, say Malaysia, would buy a Billion dollars of helicopters on the books, and ask for 10 million dollars cash behind the scenes for them to hand out to their friends.
Again, as a Christian, you’d want to shake off the dust and move on to another place, working hard for good, not for evil.
Let us then be encouraged to persevere, from place to place, with the Gospel, against all opposition, ever trusting in God that though the city is divided, we are united to Jesus Christ. Let us pray.