Daily Devotional 3-27-14

Relentless Combat
volume 13, number 13, March 27, 2014

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead, Acts 14:19.

After the elders of the church at Antioch laid hands on Paul and Barnabas the two evangelists/church planters made their way through Cyprus, then to Perga, up through Pamphylia (where John Mark left them) to Pisidian Antioch (modern day central Turkey). On the Sabbath day they went to the synagogue and preached Jesus, showing His Jewish lineage, proclaiming that through Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimed, that those who believe in Him are freed from all things, something that could not be done through the law of Moses. The people loved it! They begged Paul and Barnabas to come back the next Sabbath day, many Jews and and God-fearing Gentiles believed the gospel. The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. However, the party was soon over because the Jewish leaders were filled with jealousy and began contradicting Paul and were blaspheming God. Paul then determined that he would go to the Gentiles and they too rejoiced at the word of the Lord. The Jewish leaders, however, incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city who brought persecution on Paul and Barnabas. They shook the dirt off their feet in protest and then made their way to Iconium, a few miles southeast of Pisidian Antioch. Luke tells us that a large number of Jews and Greeks believed. Indeed a mighty work of God was under way there too. Again, however, the disbelieving Jews embittered the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. Nevertheless, they continued for a long time speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace. The gospel again brought division. Some loved the message. Others hated it. When it became clear that Paul was to be stoned, he and Barnabas left and went further east/southeast into Lycaonia to the city of Lystra. The people mistook Paul as the Greek god Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. Paul tried to correct them but the people were still seeking to worship them. That’s when Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium followed Paul to Lystra, inciting the crowds who earlier wanted to worship but now wished to stone him. So they dragged Paul from the city, trying to crush his skull with rocks, and left him for dead. His disciples stood around him; and Paul, finally awakened from his unconscious state, got up, and went back into the city. The next day they went to Derbe, and preached the gospel there and many believed. After their ministry there, Paul and Barnabas went back to Lystra, then to Iconium, and then to Pisidian Antioch, strengthening the new believers, encouraging them by saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 13-14).

Relentless combat. Paul knew all about it. He knew from the beginning that he would suffer greatly on account of Christ’s name (Acts 9:16). He faced it in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus. He faced it everywhere he went (2 Corinthians 11:23). Finally, as early church history tells us, he was executed by Nero in Rome around 68 A.D. Jeremiah knew all about relentless combat too. He was beaten, thrown into a cistern, and left for dead (Jeremiah 37:15, 38:6). Stephen knew about it. He was stoned to death (Acts 7:59). James was run through by Herod’s sword (Acts 12:2). In fact Paul said that all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:11-12). No doubt about it. Peter told us not to be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon us for our testing, as though some strange thing were happening to us (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus, the man of sorrows, the One acquainted with grief, was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). In utter anguish at the Father’s wrath being poured out on Him He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46). He told His disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this, the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you,'” (John 15:19-20). And Jesus told us that those who persecute us, who say all kinds of evil against us falsely on account of His name, are actually doing us a big favor, for our reward in heaven will be great (Matthew 5:11-12).

Are you persecuted for the sake of righteousness? Are there people who despise you because you follow Jesus? If not, you must surely ask yourself, “Am I living godly in Christ Jesus?” The gospel divides (Matthew 10:34). Some love it. Others hate it.

The Christian who lifts up Jesus with His words will face relentless combat. How so? The devil will come after you. He has many minions, demons, who ply his trade all the day. They know your weaknesses and they will tempt you. We battle daily the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world calls out to you, “Lighten up, don’t be so fervent. Be cool. Go along to get along. A little religion is okay, but relax or you will burn out in your zeal.” Your flesh, your indwelling sin and propensity to do evil, always seeks to discourage you from intentional, straight up gospel work. It certainly does me. Every time I purpose to go share Jesus at a college campus or door to door my flesh screams at me, “Don’t do it. You have other more important things to do. This does not work anymore. You will be judged a fool.” But the devil also comes after you by way of his demons. How so? He brings things at you out of no where. Perhaps you have been severely tempted by another woman when you are away from home on a trip. Maybe you had a strong sensation to do evil to yourself or a loved one. I remember, a year or so ago, after a very intense five day period of ministry, sitting with my wife on a fourteenth floor porch at a condo on the beach, feeling all of a sudden an intense urge to throw myself over the railing. From where do these things come? The closer you get to Jesus, the more you are engaged in straight up gospel work, the devil is aroused from his slumber and he comes after you. He says to you, “Go ahead. Take that other woman. You deserve her. Besides, you can always repent later. Jesus is merciful. He understands what you are going through.” And then when you “buy in” he comes at you and says, “Well, now there is no hope for you. God can never forgive what you have done. It is all over for you.”

Paul went straight at these self-righteous, religious Jews. He did the same with the pagan Gentiles. You will note that he did not spend anytime “earning the right to be heard.” He did not invest months at discerning the landscape of the local Pamphylian or Lycaonian culture. The recurring words in Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry are boldly, proclaiming, with reliance upon the Lord. He knew he had the truth. He knew the Spirit was on him. He knew the Lord Jesus was with him. He knew he would be beaten or worse, but he pressed on. He fought the good fight. He finished the course. He kept the faith. He determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

If you live this way your life will never be boring. You will experience untold joy, both in seeing God use you powerfully in the work of regeneration, justification, and sanctification; but also in the privilege of suffering, if even in some very small way, for Jesus, filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24, 2 Corinthians 4:11).

So, as you move forward with the gospel into your community, remember these three things-pray, give, and go. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you, empower you, and direct you each day to those receptive to God’s word. Give, not only of your money but also of your time and energy. The older we get, the more wealth we accumulate, then “writing a check” for the church or missions becomes the easiest thing to do. God wants not only your wallet but your calendar. And go. Intentionally, daily move out of your comfort zone into the world of those who are without hope and without God in this world. Love them. You are not loving them if you do not warn them to flee from the wrath of God to come and to run to the only refuge for sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ who alone can transform their humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.