International Sunday School Lesson for December 17, 2017
To develop a faith that neither craves approval nor succumbs to opposition
Background: Acts 14; Colossians 2:6-7
Acts 14:8-11, 19-23 (CEB)
8 In Lystra there was a certain man who lacked strength in his legs. He had been crippled since birth and had never walked. Sitting there, he 9 heard Paul speaking. Paul stared at him and saw that he believed he could be healed.
10 Raising his voice, Paul said, “Stand up straight on your feet!” He jumped up and began to walk.
11 Seeing what Paul had done, the crowd shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have taken human form and come down to visit us!” . . .
19Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and won the crowds over. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead. 20 When the disciples surrounded him, he got up and entered the city again. The following day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
21 Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news to the people in Derbe and made many disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where 22 they strengthened the disciples and urged them to remain firm in the faith. They told them, “If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles.” 23 They appointed elders for each church. With prayer and fasting, they committed these elders to the Lord, in whom they had placed their trust
Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where they strengthened the disciples and urged them to remain firm in the faith. They told them, “If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles.” (Acts 14:21-22)
This is our third lesson on faith. Faith to persevere means faith that withstands both praise and criticism.
Our text is from Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey. In some ways it is very reminiscent of Peter and John’s encounter outside of the temple near the “beautiful gate.” which we studied a few weeks ago.
Maybe you can relate to the dilemma Paul and Barnabas face, while many see you as some sort of hero or God, others see you as a threat, or are disappointed you are not the deity that they thought you were.
There is an old saying among ministers, “Don't go home with the person who meets you at the train.” If you have been involved with pastoral changes you know what that means. If not it means sometimes the people that are the most welcoming are often your biggest problem down the road.
So it was with Paul and Barnabas, after healing the man, that could not walk, many thought they were gods, verse 12 says, “ They referred to Barnabas as Zeus and to Paul as Hermes, since Paul was the main speaker.”
Imagine the disappointment when Paul stops the celebration and deprives them of sharing in the wealth and blessing that would come from a visiting god.
Since satin never misses an opportunity to embarrass a Christian worker, the Jews from Antioch (the one in Pisidia) and Iconium come and persuade the people of Lystra to stone Paul and leave him for dead outside the city.
I think verse 20 may be the most important, it pictures the church (body of believers) surrounding Paul who had been left for dead. Paul was able to get up and go back into the city the next day. That is persevering faith.
If you look at a map of this journey you soon realize that they were only a day's journey from Paul’s home town of Tarsus and from there in another day they could have been back in Antioch in Syria.
The fact that Paul and Barnabas decided to return to the churches they had established and encourage them speaks volumes about “persevering faith.”
Sometimes it is not easy to ignore the praise or survive the critics, but our strength is not in ourselves. Our strength comes from God the Father, through Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It is what enables us to live by faith. It is what enables us to minister, regardless of our successes or failures.
My hymn for this third sunday of advent is “Joy to the World.”