Acts 14: 1 – 7 In Iconium
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to ill-treat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel.
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Paul and Barnabas had been expelled from the region of Antioch. They shook its dust off their feet, and went to the city of Iconium. This was a prosperous and important city
There they spoke so effectively
- that “a great number of Jews and Greeks believed”
- that “the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers”
- that “the Lord… confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders”
This poses three challenging questions for me
- How did Paul and Barnabas speak that made them so powerful?
- Does our modern outreach threaten the self-interest of influential people? Should it?
- Is our outreach such that it confirms the message of his grace by enabling us to perform signs and wonders?
I can’t possibly do justice to these questions in a blog post, but here are a few thoughts.
At the heart of the message preached by Paul and Barnabas is this statement: ‘Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.’ (Acts 13: 38 – 39)
Is this a message that resonates strongly today?
It should do, of course, but our concept of sin has been trivialised. The media; society; each one of us; uses the word ‘sin’ either as a titillating synonym for unconventional sexual activity or as applying to murderers, rapists etc.
The fact of the matter is that sin is failure to do the will of God, and the consequences of that are dreadful. There are millions of refugees in the world. Millions of children die prematurely every year as a direct result of poverty. Innocent civilians are blown apart by munitions manufactured in the USA, the UK, Russia and other places. These are all caused by sin.
Nothing to do with me, you may think. But God’s teaching is quite clear; I must love my neighbour as myself, and my neighbour is anyone in need.
And in addition to this sin, come nearer home. Plenty of sin’s consequences here, too. Anger. Despair. Domestic violence. Substance abuse. Poverty. Even among my geographical neighbours there are desperate needs, needs among people I am called to love.
Measured by that yardstick we all fall desperately far short. Original sin is built into the fabric of society. My failure to spend every ounce of my strength loving others and advocating for social justice makes me complicit in the suffering of every refugee, the death of every child through poverty, and the quiet concealed misery of some of the people living close to me. My failure to spend every penny of my disposable income is equally culpable.
When I read Paul’s statement ‘Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses,’ that is very good news. It means that despite my continuous shortcomings it is worth continuing to try to be obedient.
It means that God cares, not just about me, but about every single human being.
It means that God cares, not just about every human being, but about me as an individual, with all my flaws. It means that He loves me.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee of that personal love. It’s also his guarantee that he will triumph over sin; that in the end, love wins.
What could be better news than that!
Thank you so much for today’s study. Thank you for reminding me of why I need forgiveness, and what your forgiveness means. Thank you for loving me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen