The gospel, as we saw yesterday, shows us that in Christ there are no divides. But what strikes me is that the gospel itself does cause a divide in humanity. Jesus himself said that he came to bring not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). And in Acts 14, as in Acts 13, we see this in techni-colour clarity.
Arriving in Iconium Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel, and a great number of both Jews and Greeks became Christians. Yet others “spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas”. The gospel brought division to the town. Either you believed the good news of Jesus – or else you opposed it. Despite spending a long time there bold preaching – with God proving their message true, “the people of the town were divided in their opinion about them.” (Acts 14:4)
The same was true in Lystra. Some believed the gospel. Others rejected it, deciding that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes come down to them. Note the divide: one man of faith (together, as verse 20 hints, with others disciples) and a town ensnared by their tradition of worthless things (Acts 14:15).
Was Paul wrong to heal this man? No. This man had faith. And though many first tried to worship and then to kill the apostles, others doubtless heard their message, and saw in this miracle from God experiential proof that the gospel is not without power. (Note, in passing, that even signs and wonders aren’t enough to guarantee trust. They must be taken in the proper context of the gospel message.)
What does this mean for us today? It is so tempting to preach a gospel that presents to the world a Jesus that everyone can be happy with. It’s tempting…. but that is not the gospel. The good news about Jesus is controversial. It’s the news that for love of us, God died and was raised to life; never again to die. Those who are wise in this world so often consider trust in Jesus foolish.
It’s not without cause that Paul and Barnabas remind us that we must suffer many hardships to entedr the Kingdom of God. When the gospel is proclaimed, Satan’s rule is challenged. Is it any surprise that he – and those who stand with him – will respond with either temptation (as in Acts 14:11-13) or anger to those who speak up for Jesus?
Lord, thank you for saving me. It’s not about my faith, it’s about the truth of who you are. I trust and believe that you are the Son of God; Lord of Lord; my Saviour. Lord, it breaks my heart that there are so many who don’t recognise you as Lord. Friends, family, neighbours. Help me to be bold for you – like Paul and Barnabas were. And help me not to try and make the good news more palatable. I want people to know the real you – and what you really did. And I know that not everyone will accept it. I might lose out because I speak for you. So make me bold. And show your power through me. Thank you that you are God, and that you are so very good.