Our passage today is Acts 14:8-20. To read it online please click on the Bible reference.
If you value job security, a Football Manager is probably not the best job for you. Of the ten teams occupying the bottom half of the table last Christmas, five have had a change of manager in the five months that have followed. The average reign of a manager in the Premier League is barely over a year. Clubs at the bottom seem to be the most vulnerable, as chairmen panic at the thought of relegation. The strange thing is, it often works. Tony Pulis has worked his magic in the last two seasons first with Cristal Palace, who looked finished when he took over, and then last season with West Brom, and on both occasions has steered them to mid-table safety. Sometimes a manager can be appointed, the change can inspire the players to new levels of commitment producing some great results and safety, only for things to go sour very early on the following season. This happened with Sunderland’s appointment of Paulo Di Canio in March 2013. The team produced some good results including an impressive 3-0 away win over arch rivals Newcastle. Di Canio celebrated by sliding along the turf in his expensive suit to the delight of the Sunderland fans. The following season, armed with a new contract, he signed a host of new players but results were appalling with a single point after five games. The BBC reported that senior players had gone to the chief executive to complain about his ‘brutal and vitriolic’ treatment of the squad. Di Canio was dismissed – hero to zero.
In today’s passage, Paul and Barnabas experience being heroes one minute and zeros the next. They were considered gods worthy of worship and sacrifice at the beginning and then shortly after, the crowd attempted to stone Paul to death – hero to zero. A good thing then, that Paul didn’t live to please the crowd; he lived to please God. There may be a lesson for us there.
We are not told what Paul was talking about but from what we have already learned it would seem pretty obvious; he was sharing the Gospel. Paul was able to discern firstly that the man was responding to the message and secondly, that he had the faith to be made well. It’s another example of a person responding to the Gospel without moving; God works in our hearts. It was one thing to know these things, lots of us get a sense when God is doing something, but Paul acted; he “said in a loud voice, ‘stand upright on your feet’”’ (14:10 NRSV). I’ve heard Nicky Gumbel talk of people that he has seen become Christians and it struck me that he often just asks someone who is seeking God ‘would you like to give your life to Jesus?’ Perhaps we should be a little bolder too.
It’s noticeable that there had been a change in the dynamic in this mission team. They had set out as Barnabas and Saul but God was now working powerfully through Paul (perhaps he changed his name from Saul to Paul as a mark of respect to Sergius Paulus) and now we read of them as Paul and Barnabas. We see that it was Paul who was performing the miracles and in verse twelve that Paul was the chief speaker. What about Barnabas, how did he feel? It was Barnabas who had encouraged the apostles with his generous gift to the Lord’s work, it was Barnabas who had brought Paul to the apostles when they had refused to meet him, Barnabas who was trusted to investigate the Church in Antioch, Barnabas who had recruited Paul to work in the church there and it was Barnabas who had started out leading the missionary trip. Now he is supporting Paul. Barnabas isn’t even his real name; it’s Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, it’s a nickname, a term of affection meaning ‘Son of Encouragement’. It was a good name because every move he made seemed to encourage others. His encouragement of Paul didn’t stop when Paul ceased to be the sidekick, he was prepared to be the sidekick himself, encourage Paul and see the Gospel proclaimed. I want to be a Barnabas.
In his message to the people in Lystra, Paul didn’t quote Old Testament Scriptures because they were gentiles had had no knowledge of Scripture. He spoke of things they knew; creation, rain, crops and food. It was a message that the people could understand. We have to follow Paul’s example to reach people with a message that’s relevant and that can understood. The essential content must remain the same centring on Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Even with God so clearly at work, evil is right there. Jews from Antioch and Iconium won the crowd over. It was probably the same group that had poisoned minds in Iconium. They must have been persuasive speakers or maybe they were just telling people what they wanted to hear.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
Paul was stoned and left for dead. We can only imagine the sort of injuries inflicted upon him. He would later write; “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:17). I wonder if he wanted to give up. No one could have blamed him if he had. But I am grateful that he didn’t, he went on and as we shall see, eventually brought the Gospel to Europe and I am a European. I’m grateful that Paul was faithful to his calling and as I think back upon my own life, I’m grateful to others, to people who prayed for me, to those who proclaimed the Gospel when I didn’t seem to be listening, to teachers and youth leaders who endured my childish behaviour and to the many Barnabases God has sent to me. Many of these folk have died and so are now with Jesus. Now it’s our turn; to encourage, to endure and to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known (Facing a Task Unfinished – Frank Houghton)