************ Sermon on Acts 14:22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 3, 2012
"Strengthening/Encouraging Disciples to Remain True to the Faith"
Installation of Elders and Deacons 2012
Our Bible reading for this morning bring us to the end of Paul's first missionary journey. However, we need to realize our passage is not about Paul – rather, it is about Jesus. Doctor Luke wrote two books: the book of Luke and the book of Acts. The book of Luke is about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven. The book of Acts is about all that Jesus began to do and to teach after He was taken up to heaven (cf Acts 1:1). So, on this installation Sunday, we are being told what Jesus is doing and teaching.
So, what is Jesus doing? Jesus is "strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith" (Acts 14:22).
As we look at Acts 14 on this installation Sunday we see the need for strengthening/encouragement, the method of strengthening/encouragement, and the goal of strengthening/encouragement.
I The Need for Strengthening/Encouragement
A We had some of the widows over at our house a couple of weeks ago. By the way, those who didn't show up missed a great time with great fellowship and great food and great games. One of the reasons we got together was to strengthen and encourage one another.
Two things happened that night that left me thinking. First, as we were visiting on the patio a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead. Someone mentioned how noisy they were. "That's not noise," I said, "that's encouragement."
As you probably know, geese fly in a V formation. By drafting behind each other the geese reduce by 30% the amount of energy they expend and increase by 71% the distance they can travel.That's a great picture of the church. When someone is leading all the rest should be honking encouragement.
Did you know that the lead goose rarely or never honks. He is too busy flying. However, all the other geese give him encouraging honks. Honking is their way of saying, "Way too go. Keep it up. Don't give up. You are doing a good job."
Second, after I explained this, one of the widows said, "Surely you don't need encouragement." "Of course I need encouragement," I said, "because Satan never stops his attacks against me and the members of our church."
Now, I am not saying I want you all to lay on your car horns after the service this morning. That is not the honking I have in mind. However, you should thank those whose term of service is finished and you should encourage those who continue in office.
B I didn't read this, but the setting of our Scripture passage is Paul and Barnabas preaching the good news in Lystra (Acts 14:7). In that city, a man who was lame from birth listened to Paul; Paul saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk (Acts 14:8-9).
Two things happened because of this miracle. First, Paul and Barnabas were worshiped as if they were gods: the crowd shouted, "The gods have come down to us in human form" (Acts 14:11); and, the priest of Zeus brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:13). When Paul and Barnabas heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you ..." (Acts 14:15).
A second thing also happened. Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium. Before coming to Lystra, Paul and Barnabas had been preaching in Iconium and, before that, in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas were expelled from Antioch in the face of Jewish opposition (Acts 13:50-51). And, Paul and Barnabas fled from Iconium when they learned there was a plot to mistreat them and stone them (Acts 14:4-6). Now, Scripture tells us the Jews who came from Antioch and Iconium "won the crowd over" (Acts 14:19). These Jews did the same thing as the chief priests who stirred up the crowd against Jesus (Mk 15:10). They worked the crowd. They spread false rumors and lies throughout the crowds. They said Paul and Barnabas were trouble makers. They said Paul and Barnabas were disloyal to Caesar. They said Paul and Barnabas were bad for business and would call down the emperor's wrath upon the city. You heard what happened next: "They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead" (Acts 14:19).
Wow. Think about this. One moment the crowd was acclaiming Paul as god. The next moment they were stoning him to death. If ever there is a reason to avoid the praise and adulation of the crowd, this is it: the crowd is fickle, its praise is temporary, and its love is false.
Now, let me tell you the most amazing part of this story. It is not the lame man – though his healing is pretty amazing. It is not the crowd – though its behavior boggles the mind. It is not the Jews – though their hatred for Christ and the Gospel is quite excessive. It is not Paul's so-called "resurrection" – though it is no small thing to get up after being left for dead. The most amazing thing about our passage is what Paul and Barnabas did a couple of days or weeks or months later: "they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch" (Acts 14:21). You heard me right: they returned to the cities where they were persecuted and mistreated and hated and reviled and abused. They started off by returning to Lystra where Paul was stoned and left for dead. Isn't this amazing?!
If you are like me then you do your best NOT to go back to Lystra in case you get worshiped as a god or stoned all over again. You have to be full of grace and godly courage to go back there. So, why would Paul risk life and limb to go there a second time?
We need to realize that in spite of how badly things ended up there were some conversions in Lystra. For instance, did you hear what happened after Paul was stoned and left for dead? Paul got up and went back into the city "after the disciples had gathered around him" (Acts 14:20). What disciples? Scripture is talking about converts. Scripture is talking about people, like the lame man, who believed the good news of the Gospel.
Humanly speaking, Lystra was the last place to which a pastor should want to go. Yet, there goes Paul. Or, rather, there returns Paul. Why? Paul returned to Lystra to strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith (Acts 14:22). Or to put it another way, Jesus compelled Paul to return to Lystra. It was Jesus Who wanted the new Christians of Lystra to be strengthened and encouraged to remain true to the faith.
Now, consider the entire situation. Paul was the one who was expelled from Antioch. Paul was the one who fled for his life from Iconium. Paul was the one who was stoned and dragged outside the city in Lystra. Paul was the one who was persecuted and mistreated and hated and reviled and abused. Yet, he returned to Lystra to strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith. Shouldn't it have been the other way around? Shouldn't Paul be the one who was strengthened and encouraged to remain true to the faith? Shouldn't the Christians of Lystra be the ones doing the strengthening and encouraging?
Yet, Paul returned to Lystra to strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith.
C Based upon his own experience, Paul knew exactly why the disciples needed to be strengthened and encouraged to remain true to the faith. As Paul said to the new Christians of Lystra,
(Acts 14:22) We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.Paul wasn't kidding! Wasn't his life a testimony to what he endured for Christ?! Listen to how Paul puts it elsewhere:
(2Cor 11:24-28) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned [he is talking about Lystra], three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (28) Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
D Do you see why Paul strengthened the disciples and encouraged them to remain true to the faith? Paul knew what was awaiting them. Paul knew that what Christ experienced and what he experienced is also what the converts of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch would experience. Paul knew they would be persecuted and mistreated and hated and reviled and abused.
What was true 2000 years ago remains true today. Woe to the pastor or missionary who tells potential converts that life will be easy once they become a Christian. Woe to you and me if we tell the people we witness to that all their problems will disappear once they have faith in Christ. To the contrary, the problems only get worse and the situation only becomes more severe.
The world that hated Christ and the world that hated Paul also hates you and me if we believe in Christ. As Paul puts it,
(Acts 14:22) We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.
II The Method of Strengthening/Encouragement
A I want you to notice the how, the method, the form of the strengthening and encouragement that took place. Paul and Barnabas did something. Did you hear what they did? Listen, again, to what Scripture says:
(Acts 14:23) Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
Elders – and deacons – do you see the job the Lord has in mind for you? Your primary task is to strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith. Your primary task is to be like one of those noisy geese flying overhead.
Let me remind you of the charge given to you elders and deacons just a few minutes ago.
I charge you, elders ... give clear and cheerful guidance to young people. By word and example, bear up God's people in their pain and weakness, and celebrate their joys with them ... Encourage the aged to persevere in God's promises.Do you hear the charge, the charge to strengthen and encourage?
I charge you, deacons ... Be compassionate to the needy ... Encourage them with words that create hope in their hearts and with deeds that bring joy into their lives.
Remember, it was Jesus – through Paul and Barnabas – Who was at work in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. It was Jesus Who appointed elders (and deacons) to strengthen the disciples and to encourage them to remain true to the faith. Obviously, it is important to the Lord of the church to strengthen and encourage. This is important because the Lord knows that believers must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.
B The word we translate as "appoint" means "to elect by a show of hands." Paul and Barnabas did not appoint elders on their first visit because it took time for congregations to recognize who among them was spiritually mature. But the second time they came through elders were appointed after the local church affirmed by vote who had the necessary spiritual gifts.
C In all this talk about elders and election and appointment to office it is easy to miss something very important. I want you to notice that Paul and Barnabas had elders elected "in each church" (Acts 14:23). "In each church."
What did Paul and Barnabas do as they went from city to city? They established local churches. The early disciples were strengthened and encouraged to remain true to the faith within the church.
Within the context of the church, within the context of the organized church, under the leadership of elders and deacons and pastors, individual Christians were and are strengthened and encouraged to remain true to the faith.
III The Goal of Strengthening/Encouragement
A I want you to also notice the goal of strengthening /encouragement. Believers are to be strengthened and encouraged "to remain true to the faith" (Acts 14:22).
In a culture that demands allegiance to Caesar and the worship of idols, believers were strengthened and encouraged to remain true to the faith. This might mean persecution, as with Paul. This might mean death, as was the case with Stephen and countless other martyrs. This might mean loss of business, as was the case with those Christians who left the trade guild with its pagan practices. This might mean a loss of home and family and occupation. In the face of a hostile world, Paul strengthened and encouraged the early Christians "to remain true to the faith."
B I wonder if Paul ever suffered doubts? After all, think of all the bad things that happened to him. Paul seemed to attract trouble like flowers attract bees. Did Paul ever wonder to himself if the Gospel and Christ were worth it? For those Christians with second thoughts and doubts and fears, Paul strengthened and encouraged them "to remain true to the faith."
C There were those in the early church who wanted a return to the Law and its practices. They required circumcision and ceremonies and ceremonial washing, and things like that. In the face of the Judaizers, Paul strengthened and encouraged the early Christians "to remain true to the faith."
D Then there were all the heretics and heresies to be found. There were those who denied Jesus came in the flesh. There were those who denied Jesus was fully God. There were those who denied the Trinity. There were those who scoffed at the second coming of the Lord. In the face of all these heresies, Paul strengthened and encouraged the early Christians "to remain true to the faith."
E There are those who find the world and the ways of the world to be very attractive. The world has no problems with divorce and adultery and alcoholism and addiction and the pursuit of pleasure. The way of the world is to sell your soul and your integrity for the almighty dollar. The way of the world is anger and hatred and discord and rage and dissensions and factions and envy. In the face of the world's attractions and the world's ways, Paul strengthened and encouraged the early Christians "to remain true to the faith."
F Something we are always concerned about today is worship attendance. There are far too many people who take a vacation from God and a weekend away from church. An article I read this past week states that in many churches twice a month is the new normal. In our circles, twicers should mean twice a Sunday not twice a month. In the face of declining or erratic worship attendance the elders need to strengthen and encourage the believers "to remain true to the faith."
This, then, is the message that elders and deacons and pastors are to bring to the people under their care: "Remain true to the faith." We are called to strengthen and encourage members to remain true to the faith.
I charge you, again, people of God, to receive these officebearers as Christ's gift to the church. Recognize in them the Lord's provision for healthy congregational life. Hold them in honor; take their counsel seriously; respond to them with obedience and respect; accept their help with thanks. Sustain them in prayer and encourage them with your support, especially when they feel the burden of their office. Acknowledge them as the Lord's servants among you.
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