Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and persuaded the people to turn against Paul. So, they threw stones at him and dragged him out of the town. They thought they had killed him. But when the followers of Jesus gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he and Barnabas left and went to the city of Derbe.
They also told the Good News in the city of Derbe, and many people became followers of Jesus. Then Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. In those cities they helped the followers grow stronger in their faith and encouraged them to continue trusting God. They told them, “We must suffer many things on our way into God’s kingdom.” They also chose elders for each church and stopped eating for a period of time to pray for them. These elders were men who had put their trust in the Lord Jesus, so Paul and Barnabas put them in his care.
Paul and Barnabas went through the country of Pisidia. Then they came to the country of Pamphylia. They told people the message of God in the city of Perga, and then they went down to the city of Attalia. And from there they sailed away to Antioch in Syria. This is the city where the believers had put them into God’s care and sent them to do this work. Now they had finished it.
When Paul and Barnabas arrived, they gathered the church together. They told them everything God had used them to do. They said, “God opened a door for the non-Jewish people to believe!” And they stayed there a long time with the Lord’s followers. (ERV)
The Apostle Paul and his traveling companions went on three missionary journeys in the New Testament book of Acts. “Mission” is more than an activity the church does; it is an expression of the church’s identity. To be the community of the redeemed is to embrace and embody the grace and love of Jesus in proclaiming in both word and deed the good news of restoration to God in Christ.
What is good news for many is bad news for others, that is, those for whom are ensconced in power and take advantage of their position to maintain the status quo. Paul was much too radical for them, as he persistently spoke truth to power when needed – not to mention that his effectiveness as a missionary caused a religious, social, and economic impact wherever he went.
It only takes a few rabble-rousers to gin up an angry mob, and Paul saw his share of them. He sometimes escaped unscathed. Yet, in other situations, Paul was beaten or stoned, sometimes being left for dead. So, how does that square with a God who sees all and is able to protect all, especially his own devoted followers?
Paul and his missionary coterie were forthcoming about the nature of following Jesus. Here are a few various translations of their words to new believers (Acts 14:22):
Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. (ASV)
If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles. (CEB)
We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God’s kingdom. (CEV)
We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. (NIV)
It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God. (NRSV)
Through many afflictions we must enter into God’s Kingdom. (WEB)
The various English words used to translate the original Greek word accurately depict what Paul was talking about. My own translation of the verse is:
It is through a lot of varied stressful adversity that we must enter the rule and reign of God.
Paul was doing so much more than explaining his own suffering. He saw his experience as paradigmatic for all who would follow Jesus. For it was Christ himself who exhorted people to count the cost of discipleship:
“Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…. Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:27, 33, NIV)
In doing the very thing which Jesus asks, the Christian life becomes pressurized from those who do not wish to see us:
Proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18, NIV)
Yet, we also have words from the Lord Jesus about how it all shakes-out for us when we deliberately and unflaggingly follow him with steadfast commitment:
“Blessed are you when people hate you, avoid you, insult you, and slander you because you are committed to the Son of Man. Rejoice then, and be very happy! You have a great reward in heaven. That’s the way their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23, GW)
Late in Paul’s life as he reflected on his missionary journey experiences, he said to his young protégé Timothy:
You know about my persecutions and my sufferings. You know all the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—the persecution I suffered in those places. But the Lord saved me from all of it. Everyone who wants to show true devotion to God in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:11-12, ERV)
Christian faith is strengthened through the stress, pressure, and adversity of facing hardship through utilizing the words and ways of Jesus. So, receive these blessings from the Apostle Paul today:
And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7, NCV)
And now may God, who gives us his peace, be with you all. Amen. (Romans 15:33, NLT)
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen. (Galatians 6:18, NRSV)