Today we see a three-fold pattern of radical, apostolic ministry. “Radical” is, of course, a vastly overused word today, especially when it comes to ministry. Neverthless, look at what these men are doing, and the pattern that their work lays down for us; what other word would you want to use?
So here’s the pattern, and in it the prescription for our ministries:
- When persecuted, carry on preaching the Gospel vv.1-7
Effective preaching and evangelism always get reactions. Here in Iconium there is belief as well as fury (vv.1-2). Notice that it’s the latter which convinces Paul and Barnabas to stay in the city, since they know that their message is getting through (v.3)! That doesn’t mean, though, that the apostles are seeking a quick promotion to heaven. They’ve proved that they’re no cowards, but reason that they’re more useful to the Lord alive than dead, so take news of further persecution as a sign to leave. Just so, the Holy Spirit makes us brave, and persevering, as well as wise. And there is no such thing as persevering without persecution!
- When misunderstood, carry on preaching the Gospel vv.8-20
We quickly get discouraged when people don’t understand the Gospel, and are tempted to give up. Here, deep into pagan territory, misunderstandings were almost inevitable when the Bible’s message is opened up, so when a man is healed by God’s power through Paul, these pagans almost inevitably think that they’ve had a visit from a First Century divine version of Batman and Robin, and prepare sacrifices in their honour (vv.8-13).
Embarrassing; comical? Yes, both; but also a great opportunity, in all the mess, for preaching the Gospel. So here’s God’s truth in Jesus, skilfully presented for pagan ears. Luke either doesn’t give us the full address, or Paul got cut off in the furore before he could open up God’s grace in Jesus. Certainly, the Jews who came into the town knew that the apostles had a message about Jesus for everyone, and they didn’t want any more converts. Again, they come with zeal, and leave with shed blood. They’ll soon learn that their policy is futile: the Gospel and its servants, will carry on – and triumph.
- When you’ve done your share of the work, carry on preaching the Gospel vv.21-28
Of course, that’s a misnomer. We have no ‘share’ of the work, if that means we’ve got permission to leave the battle because we’ve wielded the Gospel sword for a while. The Apostles return to places of success as well as hardship, and they carry on their ministry there, preaching, praying, and establishing leadership in the churches. What is the mark of a Christian? We keep on keeping on, believing, serving, preaching Christ.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord of the church, thankyou for the lives which blaze across the Book of Acts, modelling Christ and testifying to His truth. Father, I just long that You will use my life, and empower me to spend it proclaiming the majesty of Your grace. May I never waste a day, and may Your Spirit keep me trusting, serving and sacrificing til Christ comes or calls. Amen.