“Take the Adventure That Comes to You”
January 23, 2005
Meet the circumstances of life with single-minded devotion.
I. Share in word and deed (Acts 14:1-7)
II. Deal with misunderstanding (Acts 14:8-18)
III. Get up and keep going (Acts 14:19-20)
MessageThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, ends when King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund and Queen Lucy return from Narnia to our world. But they dont know thats where theyre going. Theyve been hunting the White Stag and the beast leads them to the forest at the edge of Narnia. There they see a lamppost, which stirs vague memories of our world - theyve been in Narnia so long theyve almost forgotten. But they sense that if they pass beyond the lamppost some strange change of fortune will occur. Peter, Edmund and Lucy contend that honor and duty require them to go. Susan agrees, and says something that has become an important part of my vocabulary, reflecting an attitude I think ought to characterize all of us who say that we trust Jesus. She says Then, in the name of Aslan, if ye will all have it so, let us go on and take the adventure that shall fall to us.
Take the adventure that comes to you. Ive mentioned before that in preparing for last years Russia trip, this was an attitude we cultivated. Anytime you go on a missions trip, or serve God in any way, you have to recognize that it probably wont go exactly according to plan, and the most significant things you do or accomplish or learn may come in those diversions and distractions. This means youve got to be willing to take the adventure that comes to you, even knowing that adventures are, as Bilbo the Hobbit once said Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things that make you late for dinner! If we are living our lives with single minded devotion to the sovereign God we will not be distracted from that goal by the adventures he sends.
This morning we continue our trek through the middle chapters of Acts. In chapter 14 Paul and Barnabas are on the first missionary journey. Theyre in Turkey, in the region known as Galatia. These two men know their mission: they are sold out for Jesus Christ and single minded in the task of sharing Jesus with those who have never had the opportunity to hear the Good News. But at every step in their journey, they have to take the adventure that comes to them. Their travels, their successes, their failures are almost never the result of things going according to plan, although Paul was a planner. Instead their greatest successes and their hardest trials came from unexpected turns in their journey. Thats true throughout these chapters, but is especially well illustrated in todays verses, Acts 14:1-20. And the lesson we need to learn here is to meet the circumstances of life with single minded devotion to Christ.
I. Share in word and deed (Acts 14:1-7)
Lets begin with Acts 14:1-7, where we see Paul and Barnabas single minded devotion to sharing the message of Jesus in word and deed. Acts 14:1-7 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7where they continued to preach the good news.
Paul and Barnabas left Pisidian Antioch because of persecution, and traveled south-east through the Taurus mountains to the old city of Iconium, today Turkeys fourth largest town, Konya. It was still a Greek city when Paul and Barnabas visited it, a center of agriculture and commerce. Paul and Barnabas do have a plan - they go as usual into the Jewish synagogue in Iconium, and there they share the good news about Jesus at they did in Pisidian Antioch. Luke doesnt repeat that message, but points out that the response included both Jews and Gentiles, probably god-fearers who already has some familiarity and allegiance with Jewish mono-theism.
Notice Lukes key word: these people, he says, believed. Last year when we studied the Gospel of John we saw that Jesus message of salvation was simply believe on me, put your trust in me, have faith in me. Thats the message of the whole New Testament, so when Luke wants to quickly record a positive response he doesnt say what the people did or said or understood or turned from, though at times hell mention all these things. But the short, simple version of the right response to the message about Jesus is they believed. And thats the response we should be single-mindedly seeking as we bring the same good news to people who need to hear it.
So Paul and Barnabas are working according to plan - sharing in words the good news about Jesus. They understand that helping people trust in Jesus is very high priority for single minded followers of Gods heart-beat. If you and I have no desperation to share the Gospel, we havent caught all of Gods vision for our lives. And if as a church were not urgent about this, we havent caught all of Gods vision. The milestones were working toward as a church are steps in pursuit of this single-minded goal. Were going to two services not because two are necessarily better, and not just to get bigger, but because it will allow us to invite and welcome people who need to believe the Good News. Were looking forward to planting a daughter church for the same reason - because the most evangelistically effective churches are church plants. For us, just as for Paul and Barnabas, taking the adventure that comes to us starts with pursuing a plan as sold out followers of Jesus Christ.
So Paul and Barnabas shared the message in Iconium, and saw a positive response - but they also encountered opposition. Verse 2 says But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. This was apparently a slander campaign. The word poisoned translates a rare Greek verb derived from the common noun for evil. So these opponents were putting evil thoughts about Paul, Barnabas and their message into the minds of local Gentiles.
Now how should Paul and Barnabas respond? Opposition of this sort is frequent in these chapters. Whats amazing is the different responses Paul and his companions offer to the opposition. Sometimes they just leave, as they did in Pisidian Antioch. At times they remain and endure suffering. At times they oppose the opposition and argue their case either in a public forum or in court. We dont know how they decided what to do, but they seem to have looked both at the circumstances and a sense of Gods leading and then made a decision based on the principal that God wants to reach people with the Good News. You and I can apply that approach, too. Our decisions should be based on an evaluation of the circumstances, a sense of Gods leading, and a Biblically informed idea of where Gods heart is. As a church we are trying to make decisions based on Biblical principles, for example, that God cares deeply about the people around us who have not yet trusted Jesus. We want to reflect the priorities of Gods heart in our decision making.
So Paul and Barnabas look at this rising persecution, and they decide were going to stay. Verse 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. They share the message by word and by deed, and God strengthens them so they speak boldly and confirms their work by giving miracles. Something like this, more or less, happened to us in Russia. I had left my Bible in a Russian mall, and Abbie and I went back to look, but couldnt find it. But it was found, by a believer, who contacted Trinity here, and who knew the people we were with there, and returned it to me. Small miracle, but it did indicate to us and to the Russian students that God was actively present in our situation.
But even when God is obviously working, there will always be some who resist. In Lystra a number of people sided with the Jews from Iconium who rejected the message, and eventually a serious plot was made to abuse and stone them. And in this case they looked at circumstances, leading and Scripture and said: well go share someplace else. They didnt give up, as so many of us would. They re-directed their single mindedness to a different path. This is characteristic of Gods faithful servants: they have one unchanging goal, and do whatever is necessary to reach it.
II. Deal with misunderstanding (Acts 14:8-18)
The principle is meet the circumstances of life with single minded devotion to God. The next episode is in Lystra, and shows how single minded followers take advantage even of misunderstandings. Verses 8 to 18: 8In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15"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. 16In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17Yet 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." 18Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
Luke has already told us that while in Pisidian Antioch God used Paul to heal many. Now, in Lystra, Luke records a specific instance. Paul sees a lame man, who had never walked, similar to the man Peter and John saw outside the temple in Jerusalem back in Acts 3. In fact, Luke is probably highlighting the similarities, for after Paul says stand on your feet the response of the man is the same as the man Peter healed - he jumped up and began to walk. And just as Peter and Johns healing gave them opportunity to witness because of the response of the Jewish leaders, so also this healing gives Paul and Barnabas a unique opportunity to witness because of the response of the pagan crowd.
This is one of the few places in Acts where we see active worship of Greek gods. This mans healing leads them to conclude that the gods had come down in human form, that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul Hermes. And the priests of Zeus tried to sacrifice to them. This somewhat fanatical response is easier to understand if you know some local background. John Stott explains that about fifty years previously the Latin poet Ovid, in Metamorphoses, had retold an ancient local legend. The supreme god Jupiter (Zeus to the Greeks) and his son Mercury (Hermes) once visited that exact region, disguised as mortal men. They had sought hospitality, but were rebuffed a thousand times. At last, however, they were offered food and lodging by an elderly impoverished couple in a tiny thatched cottage. Later the gods rewarded them, but destroyed by flood the houses which would not take them in. The archaeology of Lystra shows that the people were devoted worshipers of Zeus and Hermes. If the gods were to revisit their district, its likely they would offer this positive reception.
The people shouted in the Lycaoanian language, which is why the missionaries didnt at first understand what was happening. But when Paul and Barnabas figured it out, their response was immediate. They say hey, dont worship us, were just men like you! And then, while theyve got the crowds attention, Paul begins to preach. Remember, Paul was a master at suiting the presentation to the circumstances.
In the last chapter Luke recorded a synagogue presentation focused on Gods promises to the Jews in the Hebrew scriptures. Here Paul is talking to polytheistic pagans, and to some extent country bumpkins. So his message is crafted to draw their attention to the one true God and his works. Recognize that Luke doesnt give the whole sermon, so the preaching of Jesus and of salvation is not part of this record. But Paul does beautifully show how we can prepare the ground with those who have no conception of a sovereign God. He says We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God. Notice the emphasis on the fact that this is good news that people need to hear. Are you as convinced as Paul that the Gospel message we share is really the best news people can hear?
Paul knew their false gods were worthless. Much of Biblical history and prophecy had been focused on freeing the Jewish people from the worldwide addiction to false gods. Now it was time for the rest of the world to get the message. Paul contrasts their worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them and who was still active. In the past he let all nations go their own way, but he has never at any time left himself without testimony. First, he is seen in creation: the hand of God, is evident in what he has made. Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. Today the existence of God is still seen in creation, especially by those scientists who look at the biggest governing factors of the universe and the smallest details inside a cell and find what they call intelligent design - someone carefully designed these things to work, and without that design they could not exist.
In this sermon Paul adds two other life experiences that witness to the existence of a living God. The first is his ongoing provision He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons. These were things commonly attributed to the gods. But Paul claims they come from the one true God and testify to him. Further, Paul says he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." C. S. Lewis chose Surprised by Joy as the title of his spiritual autobiography and he describes the feeling of longing and satisfaction that springs on you when you see a sunset, a garden, or a mountain range; a harvest, a fire in the fireplace, a meal you like or a person you love. He calls it an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I think this is the joy Paul talks about, a joy which is a foretaste, a witness to something greater that someone out there has created us for. In The Weight of Glory Lewis says Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache. Paul points to their joy as evidence which the true and living God has given to draw them to himself.
I think we need to be like Paul, and search the souls of those we meet for their hidden longings and joys, which we can reveal to them as a seeking for God. We need Pauls single mindedness in relating to people in a way that draws them to God. He uses even this misunderstanding to create understanding, and to paint a word image that will appeal to his hearers. He takes advantage of every circumstance, always being prepared to give an answer for the hope that he has. We should too.
III. Get up and keep going (Acts 14:19-20)
Finally, we take the adventure that comes to us by perseverance. When were knocked down by the circumstances of life, or its difficulties, in Gods strength we get back up and carry on. Verses 19 and 20: 19Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20But 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.
The stoning that had been plotted in Iconium, back in verse 5, took place now in Lystra. Later when he gives the Corinthians a list of his sufferings Paul says Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. This was that stoning. And those who stoned him dragged him out of the city and left him for dead. But the disciples who had become believers in that place gathered around him, hoping to be able to minister to him, certainly praying for him. Suddenly he got back up. Luke doesnt claim this as a miracle or a resurrection, but certainly Gods hand was at work. In 2nd Corinthians 4:9 Paul says we are . . . persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
Taking the adventure that comes to you means getting back up when you are knocked down in life. Not only does Paul get back up, but he goes back into the city and recuperates for the night, and only the next day do he and Barnabas begin the sixty mile trek to the town of Derbe - where they will continue their ministry. Paul was single minded about Gods purposes, and he didnt let even the most extreme circumstances of life derail him from pursuing those goals.
Obviously, this applies when were on a missions trip. In each of the trips Ive led there have been moments for individuals or the whole group where weve felt knocked down. On the first trip to Russia it happened when we came back by train to Moscow and tried to meet up with Student Venture to go to the language camp. It turned out no ride had been planned, and we felt kind of abandoned. Then Kyle, the staff missionary, went outside and flagged down two cabs. We had to take the adventure that came to us, split up, and trust that those two cabs could find their way 60 kilometers out of Moscow to the English camp. And they did.
But these truths dont just apply to missions work - they apply to all of life, because, as my Puritan friends were fond of saying, all of life is Gods. So we are called to be single-minded for God in any of the circumstances of our lives.
Whether it is in our workplace or our neighborhood or our school or our team at the Y, we are called to share the Good News, by word and deed. And when we suffer misunderstanding, whether that is over the Gospel, or our actions, or in our families or homes or church, we need to see that misunderstanding as an opportunity, a circumstance in which we are allowed to show that we belong to a living God who cares. The Peacemakers material says that conflict is an opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, to be like Christ, to be Gods instrument in difficult circumstances.
Finally, when were knocked down, single mindedness means that we get back up again. In all these same arenas of our lives - work, home, church, school, and in all our relationships, to believers, to non-believers, to relatives, to friends, there will be circumstances that knock us down- -personal conflicts, unfair accusations, financial difficulties, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, fatigue, depression, innumerable circumstances that, if we allowed them to, would cause us to want to quit. But if were single minded for God, if our attention is on him, we will get up and cling to him and move on. We need to take the adventure that comes to us, and meet all the circumstances of life with single minded devotion to the God who made us and to Jesus who saved us.