Persecution, Prison and Proclamation #4.

  • 25 July 2021
  • Stuart Robinson

Sharing our Faith

Acts 14:20b-15-4.

There is a remarkable statement – or promise, really, in Proverbs 21:30.

It is this: ‘There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord…and verse 31 – “victory rests with the Lord”.

Do you believe that?

That promise must have been such an anchor point or an assurance for St. Paul and St. Barnabas in the events recorded in the text before us today.

Chapter 14:26 reminds us that these two men had been committed to the grace of God (his mercy and kindness) by the church in Antioch which began – you will recall, by believers who had been driven out from Jerusalem because of persecution (Acts 11:19).

And persecution was one of themes in our text last week – in that people who opposed the notion that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, attempted to murder Paul – by stoning him outside the city of Lystra (Acts 14:19).

They believed him to be dead…but no plan can succeed against the Lord.

We are told that the disciples gathered around Paul [in prayer] and he immediately rose to his feet and, with Barnabas, continued preaching in Derbe (the inland of modern Turkey) where, ‘they won a large number of disciples’ Acts 14:21.

Do you see?

No plan can succeed against the Lord.

Then, returning to the very places where they had been opposed and beaten, Paul and Barnabas met with these newly planted churches, appointed leaders, prayed and fasted with and for them, and committed them to the Lord (14:21-25).

In the face of opposition and adversity, the gospel was preached, people gave their lives to Christ, churches were established, leaders were appointed, and communities of faith grew and prospered.

No plan can succeed against the Lord.

I must say that I am helped by St. Paul’s very sobering words to this cohort of new leaders.

He says this, ‘we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’ Acts 14:22.

Or as ‘The Message’ version so clearly renders it, ‘“Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God, has to go through plenty of hard times.”

Jesus himself made this promise in John 6:33: ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!’

Paul knew that:

His peace was found in Jesus.

His salvation was assured.

His sin had been forgiven.

His home was in heaven.

And his ‘family’ were the people of God.

Yes, Paul and Barnabas were sustained and upheld by the people of God.

We read in verse 26ff that the apostles returned to Antioch and enjoyed wonderful life-giving fellowship:

  • They shared with the church the great miracle of Gentiles giving their lives to Christ.
  • The church in turn shared their resources with the apostles. In a very understated way Luke (who is recording this information) writes in verse 28, ‘Paul and Barnabas stayed there a long time with the disciples’.

And then – adversity.

Not external assault, but internal division.

Remember though, no plan can succeed against the Lord.

Chapter 15 opens with a dispute over doctrine.

People from Judea arrived at this harmonious little church in Antioch saying that new Christians had to be circumcised.

That is, ‘unless they are like us, they can’t be saved’ (verse 1).

It created (according to Luke) – a ‘sharp dispute’ -verse 2.

The Message version says, ‘Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest’.

So rather than slug it out, the leaders of this new and growing church sent a delegation (that included Paul and Barnabas – 15:2) back to Jerusalem to meet with St. Peter (15:7) and the other apostles to get their ‘take’.

As they made their way down through what is now modern Lebanon and Israel, Paul and Barnabas met with many new believers and spoke of the great miracle that Gentiles were now becoming Christians in large numbers!

The text says, “they told how the Gentiles has been converted. This made all the believers very glad’. V. 4.

Yes, people coming to Christ is cause for much rejoicing!

A difficult situation (the theological dispute) was used of God to remind people of the transforming power of the gospel, and as a great encouragement to persevere.

And as it was in Antioch, so it was in Jerusalem; Paul and Barnabas were welcomed warmly by the believers who were in turn encouraged and edified by hearing what God had done in and through Paul and Barnabas (15:4).

Proverbs 21:30-31‘There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord…victory rests with the Lord”.

Here are the ‘take homes’ for us today.

First. Adversity and struggle (in whatever form) are the norm. Believers are not immune. You are not immune.

Second. Our peace and our confidence are in Christ alone. He is our Saviour, our Lord, and our ‘home’.

Third. The gospel, the good news of Jesus, is efficacious. It brings salvation and transformation. And God uses ordinary people like those who fled the persecution in Jerusalem (and us), through to articulate preachers like Paul and Barnabas, as his witnesses.

Fourth. Like those first century churches, we are to be conduits of Christ’s love and hospitality: supporting each other in crisis; corporately rejoicing in the news of people coming to Christ; using our resources to advance and promote the purposes of God.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

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