(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

One of my lady correspondents always writes to me with her honest assessment of my annual review of the year. She never takes kindly to the Christian references and my friend was particularly annoyed by the remarks about missionary activity in Japan. She wrote in typically pungent fashion: I .... find missionary work of whatever creed shameful. ...... There is no need to ram it (the gospel) down anyone else's throat. And especially not down the throats of other cultures, in the name of Christ.

In Acts 14 we have the account of Paul preaching the gospel to another culture. I am not going to apologise for what Paul was doing! Paul was only doing what Jesus himself told his followers to do: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Mt28v19. My correspondent, with whom I have quite a lot in common -except Christianity, also wrote: I do not, nor have ever questioned the example of the life of Jesus Christ. It is a fine thing. The fact is that unless the apostles and other Christians had obeyed Jesus and told people of other cultures about him we would have no record of the fine life of Jesus today. Opponents of missionary endeavour cannot have it both ways: either Jesus' life was a fine thing and others should be told about it or he was an impostor and should be dismissed as such.

(B) The importance of the message.

In the three West Galatian cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe Paul and Barnabas preached the good news. We cannot remind ourselves often enough what that was: Jesus was God's Saviour, sins are forgiven and men and women made right with God through faith in Christ and eternal life is given to all believers. That is the essence of the gospel. Paul's insistence on preaching this gospel highlights the limitations of:

    (a) God's goodness as revealed in creation.
    Paul and Barnabas remonstrated with the crowd who wanted to offer sacrifices to them after the cripple was healed in Lystra by saying: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." vs15to17.

    Now it goes without saying that God's creation provides us with many, many blessings. I was out this week walking with my two friends Pastor and Mrs Skull in the area around Snape in East Suffolk. It was a lovely day - still, cold, crisp with hazy sunshine. Flying over the drab flat marshes of the Alde estuary was a magnificent white barn owl. It was quartering the salt marsh for prey and from time to time it swooped down on an unsuspecting vole. I exulted in the scene and thanked God I was alive.

    Many people get a lot of pleasure from creation. One morning when I was out shopping I had the misfortune to bump into Lee Goudge. I used to teach his children and play hockey with him which may account for the very disrespectful way he generally greets me. He wanted to know how I was spending my retirement. I told him that I was working on a Christian website. "Don't give me any of that," he said, "I get all the religion I want walking down a Devon lane in the spring time." Now I realise what an uplifting, joyful experience a walk between high banks ablaze with primroses can be but it is not enough.

    The Lycaonians, a Celtic people, were very well acquainted with God's goodness as revealed in nature but they remained highly superstitious. They thought Barnabas and Paul were the gods Zeus and Hermes come down to earth in human form. The gods were not always benign and it was as well to keep them happy with a sacrifice from time to time.

    Very few of the earth's peoples have progressed very far in their understanding of God from their experience of nature. The Plains Indians had a deep knowledge and reverence for everything created by the Great Spirit. But they, too, were superstitious and relied upon the visions of medicine men for guidance. Sitting Bull danced with his eyes fixed on the sun for 18 hours until he fell unconscious. He had a great vision of many soldiers falling into the camp upside down. He believed the dead soldiers were a gift from God. So his people went to war with the white man with devastating results.

    Creation bears testimony to God's power and wisdom but it is ambivalent about his concern for men. The world of the barn owl also contains mosquitoes. The mosquito has caused men untold misery. It has been responsible for almost half the deaths of all the men that have ever lived. The world of the wild rose is also the world of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. The world of the gorgeous sunset on a peaceful summer's evening is also the world of the earthquake, hurricane and drought. I don't think I could be a 100% certain that God loved me from the evidence of nature.

    (b)Signs and wonders.
    There is a certain type of Christian who longs for signs and wonders. They want some tangible evidence that God is on their side.

    It is true that the cripple benefited from the miracle that God worked through Paul. The faith of the believers in Lystra might have been strengthened by this display of God's power. However, it did not benefit the superstitious and excitable Lycaonians. For them: "The God's have come down to us in human form."

    No-one did more miracles than Jesus and yet how few believed in him. After the feeding of the 5000 crowds flocked to him - because they loved the grub! Jesus said to them: "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill" John6v26. I find this one of most depressing of all Jesus' statements.

    Very few of those who followed Jesus for the splendid food he provided responded positively to his words: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never thirst." John6v35. Instead we read: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. v66. It is amazing that a man who blessed and broke a few loaves and a couple of fish to feed a multitude was deserted by any one at all. But they did turn back. Miracles are not the best way to win converts to Christ.

The most effective way to win souls for Jesus is to preach the gospel. Paul outlines his method when writing to the Corinthians - 1Cor2v1to5. Paul writes: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. See my exposition on 1Corinthians1v18to25.

It is possible for the message of salvation to be missed if the preacher is too entertaining. I think many of my pupils enjoyed my assemblies because they were humorous. See my story entitled: 'You can do it.' They often remembered the funny anecdotes and forgot the application. I don't suppose Paul told many jokes when he was preaching Christ crucified.

The message of salvation can be missed if the preacher is too eloquent. Paul reminds the church at Corinth that he did not come with eloquence .... as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. A congregation can be so impressed by the oratory of the speaker that they lose sight of the Sacrificial Lamb. No dedicated evangelist wants the congregation to say, "What a preacher!" Rather he longs to hear, "What a Saviour!"

The message of salvation can be missed if the preacher is too clever. Paul writes: My message and my preaching were not with wise or persuasive words. Listeners will be turned off if they think the speaker is too clever by half. I once had a discussion with a Christian scientist about the origin of man. He kept saying, "You'll know this," and, "Of course, you will have read about this." I found this approach particularly irritating and alienating.

The most effective gospel preaching, without a doubt, is that which is accompanied by a demonstration of the Spirit's power.

(C) The hatred of the opponents of Jesus Christ.

The Jews were the most virulent opponents of Paul and Barnabas. In Iconium the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned thir minds against the brothers. v2. Eventually the lives of the two missionaries were at risk: There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to ill-treat them and stone them. v5. After Paul and Barnabas had fled to Lystra it was not long before Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. v19.

The Jews who didn't believe rejected Jesus as an impostor. They could not believe that a man the religious authorities in Jerusalem handed over for crucifixion was the Son of God and Saviour of the world. Paul said when writing to the Corinthians: But we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the Jew. 1Cor1v23.

Most of the antagonism of the world towards Christians is rooted in an inveterate hatred of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus said: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. ...... I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. ...... He who hates me hates my Father as well. .....'They hated me without reason.'" John15vs18to25.

There are still plenty who hate Jesus and consequently hate Christians as well. There are militant Jews, Hindus and Muslims who hate Jesus and persecute his followers with no mercy. In my own country there are left leaning liberals who control the media who have no time for the Saviour. They exercise their politically correct censorship and never allow forthright gospel preaching to be heard on either the radio or TV. What is worse, the Government of what has been a Christian country for thousands of years prohibits Christians from having their own radio station.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao t'se Tung and Pol Pot all hated Jesus and persecuted his church. It was a red-blooded hatred. The hatred of British politicians, civil servants and media men who oppose the Light of the World is of the thin-blooded variety but it is no less spiteful and vindictive for that.

(D) Christian's must be wary of the world's support.

The Lycaonians were very impressed when Paul healed the man crippled in his feet from birth. Suddenly Paul and Barnabas were heroes to be feted; gods to be worshipped. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. v13. Sudden outpourings of emotion and sentiment are common amongst superstitious people.

I wonder if we long for the attention of the media and the world's applause. The media have a nasty habit of building up its heroes before casting them down from their pedestal. Mother Teresa was often held up as an example until after her death when she was afforded more critical treatment.

When a well-loved figure dies the huge public outpouring of grief and sentimental comment is more Lycaonian in character than Christian. There was something pagan and superstitious about many people's reaction to Princess Diana's death. When Jesus went to the home of Jairus and found people there wailing and mourning at her death he said, "Stop wailing. She is not dead but asleep." Luke8v52. Jesus was not impressed by the extravagant expression of sorrow by professional mourners.

It is remarkable that the very crowd that one minute was prepared to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas and garland them with wreaths was the next stoning Paul to an inch of his life. The world is like this - unprincipled and fickle. As Jesus said, 'They hated me without reason'.

Peter gives sound advice to all who are persecuted by the world: To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

          "He committed no sin,
          and no deceit was found in
          his mouth."

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

That is what we have to do: entrust ourselves to him who judges justly.

(E) Christian Solidarity.

An unholy alliance of Jews and Gentiles in Lystra stoned Paul. It is clear that he was more provocative than Barnabas! He still arouses strong passions. The crowd thought that they had killed Paul and as this was an illegal act they dragged him out of the city in the hope that by so doing the death would not be investigated by the Roman authorities.

The Christian converts did not abandon Paul. We read: But after the disciples had gathered round him, he got up and went back into the city. v20. I expect Paul's brothers and sisters in Christ gathered round him for prayer.

We should gather round to pray for our suffering brethren. I read in the Open Doors magazine about a Christian widow, Sihan Qundah, who was informed that apart from direct intervention by Jordanian King Abdalluh II, she would be jailed for refusing to hand over her two children to be raised as Muslims. We should not abandon those who are being persecuted for their faith but pray for them. I am not very good at doing this but we have some in our church who are. That is why it is important to gather together for prayer - so that others make good our own omissions.

(F) A pastor's loving concern for the sheep.

After spending some time in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. They went back to those cities and into danger strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. v22. Isn't that great! In Paul's second letter to Timothy he wrote: You know what kind of things happened to me at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact everyone, who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2Cor3v10and11.

It is likely that Lois, Eunice and Timothy became Christians in Antioch and travelled with Paul to their hometown of Lystra. Timothy learned early in his Christian life the cost of being a disciple of Jesus.

So in spite of the persecution he endured, and the risk he ran of worse , Paul went back to strengthen the churches he founded in Galatia. He stands in sharp contrast to some pastors who once they have left a church, moved on as the saying goes, apparently lose all interest in the Christians they have left behind.

(G) Paul's realistic assessment of the Christian life.

Paul tells the churches of Galatia, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." Christian, in Bunyan's, 'Pilgrim's Progress', endured many troubles on his way to the Celestial City: the Slough of Despond, By-path Meadow, Giant Despair's dungeon, the hill called, 'Difficulty', the lions in the way, and Vanity Fair. Christian encountered many villains on his journey: Money Love, Hold the World, By-ends, Ignorance and Flatterer. The worst enemy of all was Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation; Apollyon who said, "I swear by my infernal den that thou shalt go no further," before hurling his fiery darts. But during the fiercest attack Christian drew his sword and routed the enemy with one great thrust: "Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." Romans8v37.

          Am I a soldier of the Cross-
          A follower of the lamb?
          And shall I fear to own His cause,
          Or blush to speak His name?

          Must I be carried to the skies
          On flowery beds of ease,
          While others fought to win the prize
          And sailed through bloody seas?

(H) Conclusion.

Some might ask, "Was all Paul's effort worth it?" On Feb 15th 2003 I read the obituary of Ned Garfitt, forester and poet, in the Daily Telegraph. The obituary contained a quotation from the end of his poem, 'In the Chilterns':

          I have cared for in my day
          Every spinney, shaw and slay
          From Grim's ditch to Icknield way.

          I like to think when I am gone
          Though no more woodman's work is done
          Trees I've set will still grow on.

Paul planted something more important than trees. He established churches. I think the last three lines of Garfitt's poem could be adapted by Paul to read:

          I know for sure where I am gone
          Though no more planting work is done
          Seed I've set will still grow on.