Friday, September 05, 2014, 6:28 a.m. – the Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 14 (quoting selected verses in the NIV). I will summarize some of this due to the length of the passage. Set Apart In chapter 13 we read that Saul (Paul) and Barnabas were set apart by the Holy Spirit for the work to which the Spirit of God had called them. They were sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, and they traveled to numerous different places where they preached the kingdom of heaven and the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. There were many people who received the message with joy and who believed in Jesus Christ, yet there were also a lot of people who were opposed to the preaching of the gospel of salvation, and who tried to persuade those who wanted to hear the word of the Lord to not listen to the apostles. Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News – Jesus Christ, as the fulfillment of prophecy, and the gospel of salvation through Christ alone, via his blood shed on the cross for our sins. They proclaimed forgiveness of sins through Jesus, and that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is set free from every sin. Yet, they also warned of judgment of God upon them if the people scoffed at the gospel, and if they did not accept its truths into their lives. There were also those who stood in opposition to the gospel of salvation who did much more than to just try to persuade people to not listen to the gospel message. There were Jews who were jealous of the apostles’ popularity and of the warm reception they were receiving from the people, so they began to contradict what Paul was saying and they heaped abuse on him. Yet, Paul and Barnabas remained steadfast in their commitment to the Lord to preach his gospel, and many people were saved from their sins. As well, the word of the Lord spread, which then angered the Jewish leaders, so they incited men and women alike to stir up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and they expelled them from the region. So, the apostles gave them warning and they went to another place - Iconium. As Usual 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. ~ 14:1-3 Wherever God is at work in people’s hearts, Satan is at work, as well, in trying to counter what God is doing, by spreading lies, and in trying to instill fear, doubt, discouragement and despair into people’s hearts. If God is using us greatly to spread the truth of the gospel of salvation, then we should expect opposition in various forms, including having people spread lies about us in order to keep people from listening to the message. Yet, man can do nothing to us but what God allows it, he allows it for a purpose, and he will give us all we need to endure, to persevere, and to keep going in his strength and power within us. A Plot Afoot 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 mistreat 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. ~ 14:4-7 We may have supporters, some of whom we may not even be aware of, yet we will also have opponents. We cannot let this discourage us, even if the opposition is a whole lot stronger and more prevalent than the support we receive. I know that for myself personally that if I had to rely upon the support and encouragement of humans to keep going I would not have continued, because the opposition is so fierce at times, so much so that what emotional support and encouragement I do receive is often paled by comparison. It surely is welcome and a blessing when it does come, though. Yet, my dependency has to be in the Lord Jesus alone to give me all the support and strength I need to keep on keeping on in sharing the truths of his words. We can’t allow the opinions or mistreatments of humans to keep us from obeying our Lord Jesus. We must continue, because people need Jesus! The Gospel Message In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, 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. ~ 14:8-10 The crowd saw this healing that took place, and they decided that Paul and Barnabas were gods. They tried to offer sacrifices to them, but Paul and Barnabas put a stop to it. They explained to the people that they were humans just like them. And, then they enlightened them with the knowledge that they were just there to tell them the Good News – that they must turn from worthless things (idols) to the living God, who is our creator. That is the essence of the gospel of our salvation. And, it was what Paul was commanded by Jesus Christ to teach and to do – “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (See Ac. 26:16-18). As well, this is the gospel of salvation taught by the apostles throughout the New Testament. We must turn from our sins, be transformed in heart and mind of the Spirit of God, and we will receive new lives in Christ, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (See Eph. 4:17-24; cf. Ro. 6-8; Gal. 2:20; and 1 Jn. 1-5). Jesus died so we would no longer live for ourselves but for him who gave himself up for us (See 2 Co. 5:15). His grace, in fact, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled and upright lives while we wait for his return (See Tit. 2:11-14). God’s grace is not a free license to continue in sin without punishment. How can it be grace if we are not truly set free from slavery and the control of sin over our lives? Jesus didn’t die on the cross just so we could escape hell, and just so we could go to heaven one day. He died in order that we might live new lives in him while we are still on this earth, forsaking our sins and following him in obedience and in surrender to his will and purposes. Fickle People Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. ~ 14:19-20 One minute the crowds were proclaiming the apostles to be gods and they were attempting to offer sacrifices to them, and the next they were persuaded by some Jews to turn against the apostles, in particular Paul. And, we must know that we may face something similar to this, too. This is why our trust has to be in God alone and not in humans, because humans can be fickle sometimes, and can be easily persuaded to switch sides, perhaps multiple times, going back and forth between sides. Those who may support us now may turn on a dime and may strongly oppose us in the future, or when under pressure to conform to the opinions of others whose voices may be louder and/or more emotionally persuasive. So, we have to be prepared for this reality and not let it undo us, but we must keep on in Christ. Paul and Barnabas never gave up. There were times when they were severely persecuted where they fled a particular place and went to another, but even then sometimes they went back to where they had been persecuted in order to encourage the believers there, even at the risk of their own lives. They said to them, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And, we must know that is true for us, as well. We must be willing to leave all the pleasures this world has to offer us, including the love and acceptance of human beings, in order to follow Jesus Christ with our lives. Jesus said that if we want to come after him, we must disallow ourselves (our self-life), die daily to sin and self, and follow him in obedience (See Lu. 9:23-25; cf. Eph. 4:17-24). If we try to hold on to our own lives, we will lose them for eternity, but if we lose our lives for the sake of Christ and his gospel, we will gain eternal life with God in glory. My Jesus, I Love Thee / William R. Featherstone / Adoniram J. Gordon My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine; for thee all the follies of sin I resign. My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now. I love thee because thou hast first loved me, and purchased my pardon on Calvary's tree; I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now. I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death, And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath; And say, when the death-dew lies cold on my brow, If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now. In mansions of glory and endless delight; I'll ever adore thee in heaven so bright; I'll sing with the glittering crown on my brow; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.