This morning at Jericho Congregational Church we enjoyed a blessed time of celebration. Joyous praise. Baptisms. Receiving of new members. Even a potluck! The Christian life is either liberation and celebration. Christians co-labor with God to liberate all people from sin’s curse, and celebrate this “work in progress” in its generalities and particulars, made possible by the Finished Work of the Cross.
The final leg of Paul’s first missionary journey is close-quarters, no-holds-barred liberation warfare, one battle after another. The battlegrounds are a string of cities in modern-day Turkey and the Balkans. Which just goes to show that vicious religious strife is nothing new to that part of the world. The combatants are Paul and Barnabas and supporters, opposed by an axis of unbelieving Jews (driving the agenda), easily misled Gentiles and local leaders. The Jews consider Paul a traitor, usually the most hated person in any conflict. Think Quisling and Benedict Arnold.
Both sides want the hearts and minds of the Gentiles. Both try persuasion. But when words fail – and they do – Paul and Barnabas a) do signs and wonders and/or b) leave town, sometimes conscious and willingly, sometimes not. The other side employs thugs with stones. Paul is stoned and left for dead outside the city but revives – most likely miraculously – and continues to preach in the next town.
So what did it look like when “God opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (v.27)? Besides a lot of bruises:
1. Gentiles believe in “great numbers”
2. A lame man is healed
3. Gentiles hear a summary of how God sees them (“Once he let you alone, being content to testify through provision, now he calls you to repentance and eternal life,” Vs. 15-17)
4. Elders are appointed for churches
5. Back in Antioch, worried believers are encouraged to hear from Paul on his return that a) God has protected his sent-out ones, and b) that “we must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” A hard but useful teaching for the saints of Rome who must endure the persecutions yet to come.
As the wolves treated the shepherd, they will treat the sheep. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world, and is liberating it every day, through his friends.