Monday, February 11, 2019

The Only Opinion That Matters

[This is the journal entry from my quiet time with God this morning.]

Look: “Even with these words, they [Paul and Barnabas] had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. 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. They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.” (Acts 14:18-21a)

In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas, commissioned to carry the Gospel to Gentiles and Jews, are the instruments by which the risen, ascended Jesus heals a man lame from birth. The local crowd thinks that Paul and Barnabas are gods. They’re intent on offering sacrifices to the two. Even after Paul and Barnabas explain that they’re not gods and have come with good news of new life from the one true God revealed in Jesus, “they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.”

No sooner had the two explained this than some of their fellow Jews, opposed to the preaching of Christ and from Iconium, convinced the Lystra crowd that Paul and Barnabas should be stoned to death. Paul was so badly pummeled, apparently unconscious and immobile, that the crowd left the apostle for dead. But, after the Christians gathered around Paul, presumably praying, “he got up and went back into the city,” heading off to Derbe with Barnabas so that the two could continue their missionary work.

There are two obvious things about this incident, I think. First, there’s the fickleness of the crowd. Within the span of a short amount of time, they have two conflicting reactions to Paul and Barnabas, both of them wrong. First, they want to worship the two of them. Then, they set out to kill them.

That’s not unlike how we treat the latest celebrated people to enter our lives: At first, we hail them as some kinds of gods; then, disappointed that they’re only human, we tear them down. This cycle is depressingly familiar.

The second thing that strikes me in the passage from Acts is this: Paul and Barnabas are not swayed by the fickle crowd. They don’t play to the crowd. When the crowd wants to make them idols, they’re faithful to Christ. When the crowd wants to kill them, they’re faithful to Christ.

Listen: Years after the incident recounted in these verse, the apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Paul wasn’t asking Timothy to do what he himself wasn’t willing to do. (Or hadn’t done.) The seasons in which the gospel we Christians are called to believe and to share with others change. Sometimes the message of the gospel we carry will reach people and they become disciples of Jesus too. Other times, people will misunderstand the message or us and treat us like we’re “all that.” And at other times, our message and we ourselves will be treated with contempt, sometimes even be subject to persecution.

But neither the God we know in Jesus Christ nor His gospel or our need of Christ and His gospel ever change! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).” Even as we reach out in love to the crowds who need Jesus Christ to be saved from sin and death, we can’t allow their reaction to change the only message that can save them. As the apostles Peter and John said of Jesus shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension: “ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” (Here, they simply reflect what Jesus says: “ I and the Father are one” and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”)

I like to have people accept me. I don’t like confronting those who are hostile. I don’t like offending people, even when the offense is the revealed Word and will of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in believers, I need to be more like Paul and Barnabas, faithful to the God revealed in Jesus whether people’s high opinions or low opinions of me don’t match reality; faithful to Christ, whether people like it or not, whether they misunderstand it or not. It’s only this kind of faithfulness that authenticates the gospel, the good news of new life as a gift of grace from God through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Respond: Lord, help me to resist my desire to take my cues from the world. Open me today to the promptings of Your Holy Spirit seen in Your Word. Help me to remember that Yours is the only opinion that matters. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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