A reflection on Acts 14:1-7 for Sunday, October 25 at Mosaic Baptist Church
The same occurred in Iconium – where they went into the synagogue of the Jews and spoke so that many – both Jews and Greeks – became believers.
But the unbelieving Jews stirred up and poisoned the minds of the gentiles against the brothers and sisters. They remained a long time – speaking boldly for the Lord who witnessed to his word of grace – enabling signs and wonders through their hands.
The city’s people, however, were divided. Some sided with the Jews Some sided with the apostles. When, however, both gentiles and Jews tried, with their rulers, to mistreat and stone them, the apostles found out and escaped to the Lyconian cities of Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding area. There they continued to declare the good news.
Acts 14:1-7 (Own translation)
If you have ever been to a call-and-response church, you may be familiar with the following: ‘God is good all the time; All the time God is good’.
It is a timely reminder for this season across our planet. A global pandemic. Political unrest and division. Polarisation leading to violence.
And yet, God is always good.
Of course, we do not always feel this way. The goodness of God can be almost impossible to see.
The goodness of God can be almost impossible to see. I do not at this lightly.
And neither does the Bible. So many biblical stories remind us that, in this world, bad things occur to us all. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Job, the Psalms. Even Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount with a story of storms coming. Whether a house is built on sand or stone – the wind, rain, and flood always come.
Many have, I suspect, a capitalistic view of blessing. When we are doing well, God is pleased. When we are not, God is not. It portrays a not-so-well-hidden belief in a reward and punishment deity.
Yet our text – beautifully – points to a Lord who miraculously affirms the ‘word of grace’.
Our reading begins by comparing the events in Antioch of Pisidia with the summary of the events about to unfold: ‘The same occurred in Iconium…’
The events in Antioch unfold over thirty-nine verses. Those in Iconium over a mere seven. Granted, much of the narrative from Antioch is taken up with Paul’s speech in the synagogue. Still – the events in Iconium have something of a summary flavour.
This does not imply, however, that the apostles time in Iconium any less eventful.
Once again we begin in the synagogue where there is a mixed ethnic audience who respond in great numbers to the message of Paul and Barnabas. Everything has begun well.
Immediately, however, Luke points us to significant opposition. It is instigated by some of the ‘Jews’ who have not responded to their message with faith. Quickly they begin to darken the minds of the new converts – especially those beyond Israel.
The response of Paul and Barnabas is to remain for some time in the region dedicating themselves to witnessing to all. Their efforts are rewarded – and confirmed – with signs and wonders.
Yet even this led to division – and eventually to a murder plot. The apostles discover their plan – and flee to the neighbouring cities of Lystra and Derbe.
I wonder if you can feel something of the up and down, high and low, nature of this telling? Their message is initially received – then opposed – then confirmed – then opposed in such a way to cause the instigators of this fledgling church to flee for their lives.
Perhaps – at a surface level – it looks like a failure. A victory to the ways of the world.
Which is why I suspect it takes a mature outlook to continually recognise the consistent goodness – and blessing – of God in such a volatile environment. This must have been true for Paul and Barnabas.
It is also true for us.
Perhaps they would have done well to adopt the call as their own: ‘God is good all the time; All the time God is good’. I can imagine their voices bouncing off one another – even as they make their escape.
After all, God has proven abundantly faithful. A new community of Jesus-followers has been established. A murder plot foiled. The message of grace proclaimed.
I am left with a suspicion that the final statement of their time in Antioch could also be repeated here: ‘…the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.’
May it be for you also – for God is good all the time…
Does your understanding of Jesus cause you to seek highs and avoid lows? What are the dangers of this?
Where do you see Jesus embracing the entire spectrum of experience that life offers?
What does this account tell you of the nature of mission?