Friday, February 20th

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.  After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.  Acts 14:19-23

 

If you are really intent on following Jesus, the odds are pretty good that things will get tough.  But don’t despair.  God can use those times, all of those times, toward God’s larger purposes.  The final way that people come to faith in the book of Acts is through the disciples’ continued willingness to carry the message in the face of opposition, trial and hardship.

 

It might seem strange that opposition and hardship would serve, rather than stifle, the faith until you remember who we are following.  Jesus drew crowds when he healed people and served free lunch, but at the end of the day he proved a massive danger and disappointment.  He was a danger to the religious and political powers and he was a disappointment to the crowds who expected more from him than he delivered.

 

In our lives today we seldom face the kind of harsh opposition that met those earliest disciples.  Many would probably say that is because we live in a Christian culture so the Kingdom of God no longer appears as such a threat to the established order.  Others would say “you can’t baptize a culture so we don’t live in a Christian culture” and that the Kingdom of God will always appear as a threat…we have just tempered and tamed and domesticated the message to take the sting out of it.

 

The Kingdom of God is where God rules and we are ruled…the rule is love and to be in the Kingdom is to be loved.  The Kingdom of God is where God’s will is done and we do God’s will gladly and willingly.

 

The good news of the Kingdom means a community embracing radical diversity.  It means that justice reaches above and beyond laws, that generosity meets selfishness, that humble service for the sake of others becomes the hallmark of all service.  It means that love swallows apathy and hate, that forgiveness is the goal rather than perfection and that the path is one of radical surrender rather than material acquisition.

 

So it is that Paul could share his story before the crowds soon to beat him and God would use that story to turn the hearts and minds of some.  That Peter could preach while locked behind prison walls and God could use that story for the salvation of a jailor’s family.

 

External opposition will never and can never silence the good news of the Kingdom of God. 

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, may we always be willing to tell our story, to invite others to come and see, to do our part in Christian community, to trust you in the face of doubt, discouragement and opposition.  Hold us when we can’t hold on anymore and use us to help others see your love for them.  May your Kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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