The saga of word proclamation, reception of and opposition to the Gospel continues in this chapter. There’s a few incidents that caught my attention, first, the text says, “they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both Jews and Greeks.” (V.1)
This struck me because somehow their speech and mode of delivering the message deeply impacted the conversion of the hearers. It reminds me of accounts in the Gospels where Jesus spoke or taught such that amazement and wonder seized the listening crowds. What manner of speech is this?
I’ve experienced in the preaching of the word (both in hearing and delivering the message) an unusual dynamic where the words seem to take you from one realm of reality to another and the soul is strengthened with hope. Other times I’ve heard preaching where (and this is unusual) the atmosphere in the room changes—often attributed to the Spirits special manifestation—and the weightiness of the message causes the hair on the back of my neck to arise. These are moments I “know” the message is directly for me. I’ve also experienced this when reading the bible alone.
Clearly the Lords power was present with Paul and Barnabus to not only teach and preach but also to perform signs and wonders as they boldly continued to preach the word of God in the midst of opposition (Vv.2-3). Thus, much joy came to those converted, but those opposing the message put together a death squad in order to quell the propagation of the gospel.
Second, a recurring theme in Acts is that the word is received on the one hand, but rejected on the other hand with lethal opposition. Here the one who murdered and incarcerated Christians is now receiving what he previously “dished out”. Was this “karma” as some would suggest or was this by Christ’s “design”? I deny the former and affirm the latter because the karmic view is an “impersonal force” that operates on cause and effect, whereas the biblical view demonstrates that the “personal” Son of God is working out his specific plan for Paul on whom he’s had mercy (Acts 9:15-16).
Moreover, the cause of Paul’s suffering ordained by the Savior was not based on Paul’s previous life (I.e., before he converted) but was for the sake of Jesus’ Name. Many Christians in America don’t have a theology of suffering for the Christian. This is unfortunate because the means to follow Christ is to deny ourselves, take up the Cross, and then follow him—the metaphor is telling.
While sufferings are multifaceted, the grace of Christ is present to bring us through whatever circumstance (Whether we are healed in this life or not). Sometimes God chooses to deliver us from suffering, but other times, because of His hidden purposes for us, we must endure them. Regardless, we must not conclude that God has removed His love from us (Read Rom.8:28-39) because He never will.
Third, signs and wonders can be misinterpreted by pagans so that they don’t attribute the power to heal to the infinite God, but to some contingent false god like Hermes and Zeus (Vv.8-13). But faithful servants of the Lord correct such misunderstandings with the word of God even if it’s difficult to persuade men otherwise (Vv.14-18) and note what Paul says:
“Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (V.15)
Paul affirms he is like they, denies the existence of their gods, and points to the God who is the fountain of all that exists. Note also the phrase, “should turn” implying that to not turn to the living God is wrong, immoral, sin. So thus far, we have: conversions, reception and rejection of the gospel, signs and wonders, and now…
Fourth, Paul is stoned for the faith (Vv.19-22). The natives were not passing around a “joint” here, but they were actually trying to kill the apostle. This is part of God’s ordained plan according to Jesus’ words in Acts 9 so that through the hands of culpable sinners the Name would be glorified (See also Acts 2:14-47). Thinking Paul to be dead after having been dragged out of the city (not sure if he was or not), the disciples around him witnessed Paul get up and go back into the city to preach the gospel. Amazing!!!!!!! What must have his executioners thought when they saw him back at it in the city?
After going to Derbe and making disciples there, Paul returned to Antioch and Iconium and warned them that, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (V.22) which is in line with Jesus’ teaching of denying self, taking up the cross and following him.
This section is quite overwhelming, filled with varied action all of which in spite of opposition, the message of the gospel went forth. This truly emboldens me for witness and perseverance, may many others also be strengthened.