Our passage today is Acts 14:21-28. To read the passage online please click on the Bible reference. I know you’ve been clicking the word ‘here’ for five months and now its click on the reference. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ve done that but I think I like it.
There are a lot of property programmes on TV. It’s a sort of compromise for us, for some unfathomable reason, Jackie isn’t quite as keen on Match of the Day, Motorbike racing and documentaries as me, so some property programmes are something we can watch together. We like the Channel 4 programme Grand Designs which follows a house build from the plans through to the finished article. It’s a strange thing to like; we have no plans to build a house or even move. I like to watch how the build is managed; some decide to manage the project themselves and as you would expect; some do it well and some discover why they should have paid a project manager from day 1. I like to watch skilled craftsmen work and of course we like to see it finished and judge what sort of home it would make.
In today’s reading, Paul and Barnabas are heading back to Antioch. Of course, neither Paul or Barnabas were from Antioch; Paul was from Tarsus and Barnabas from Cypress – But it was Antioch where they had served together in leadership, where they had been first called to mission and where they had prayed before setting off and it was to the Church in Antioch they would report all of the amazing things God had done on the mission trip. They were heading home.
This is one of those places where the break for the next verse is in the wrong place. As I think we’ve seen before, the chapters and verses were added to the Bible at a later date and so are not inspired (but very useful!). the last sentence in verse 20 states; ‘The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe’. So the town where they preached and won a large number of disciples was Derbe, a town about 60 miles east of Lystra and a name I have never been sure how to pronounce. If you are reading this online you can discover how it’s pronounced here on the excellent Blue Letter Bible website.
From Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps to the coast before sailing for Antioch. A quick look at a map showing the route (sorry to Hannah and everyone else who hates maps) reveals that though their destination was southeast, they headed in a roughly northwesterly direction which made the journey many times longer than necessary. Did they have a dodgy satnav? As we shall see, they had three things to do and they must have been important since they were returning to towns where there was a very real and present danger.
- They preached the Gospel (14:21, 25). No surprise there, The gospel is not for special occasions, it is part of the believers’ DNA. We are people of the gospel. Paul was driven by a desire to tell people about Jesus.
“Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
- They strengthened the disciples (14:22). When someone becomes a Christian, it isn’t something they can just ‘bank’ until it’s needed. Following Jesus is a different way of life. We need to grow and develop, to become more like Jesus and to be part of a Church, a gathering of believers. Paul and Barnabas didn’t see that their work was done when a person became a believer, they revisited them, on more than one occasion and wrote to them. We all have a part in this. We are called to encourage one another.
- They appointed elders (14:23). The word translated ‘appointed’ (cheirotoneo), means to appoint by vote. However, when Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders (Titus 1:5) he used a different word (kathistemi), meaning to appoint a person over something. It seems to me that the Bible does not set out exactly how things should be done but we are given clear principals. Leaders are not called to boss people about; they are called to be servants. Churches need leaders. Leaders need encouragement and prayer.
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. (SJ Stone)