the mission to pagans

R W GLENN
DATE: 4.29.2012 SCRIPTURE: acts 14:1-28 SERIES: acts series #18

IntroductIon
Success costs you something. You’ve probably heard that before. To climb the ladder for success in the world, it’s not going to come easy. I don’t know who said this. I’d like to think I did. You have to pay the price if you want the prize. The same is true when it comes to success in Christian ministry. If you look at the history of the spread of the gospel it is full of setback and suffering. The more the good news of Jesus has gone out into the world, the more it makes headway, the more you can expect opposition, persecution, and suffering. The Christian mission simply cannot be accomplished without it. And as we come to Chapter 14 in our study of the book of Acts, the reality of the cost of the mission’s success hits us squarely in the face. Turn with me there. To this point in the book of Acts, we’ve seen EXAMPLES of suffering, which by implication are meant to show us that suffering is a non-negotiable for the Christian life, but we’ve not yet seen an EXPLICIT declaration that suffering is NECESSARY. This is the first time we see this in the book of Acts. Let’s read the chapter together. Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel. Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that 2

he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples. There it is in verse 22:

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…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Put very simply, in order to enjoy all the blessings of the abundant life that begins now and is going to continue forever when Jesus comes back to fix all the brokenness that’s in you and all around you, you MUST experience difficulty. You should take that as a huge slap in the face to the idea that Christianity is “Your Best Life Now”! What a slap in the face to the prevailing idea that Christianity is merely a psychological cushion for weak-minded! And what a slap in the face to the idea that becoming a Christian means your problems will just evaporate! This text couldn’t be clearer. through many tribulations you MuSt enter the kingdom of God. The door to the palace of the kingdom is composed of affliction, distress, persecution, and trouble. There simply is no other way in. And more than that, and in keeping with the overarching point of the book of Acts, there is no other way the mission will be accomplished. The kingdom advances through suffering. It is through many tribulations that the church grows and the world is transformed. So if we as Redeemer Bible Church are going to succeed in fulfilling our role in the mission to the Twin Cities and to the world, we should not expect it to come easy. It is through many tribulations that you MuSt enter the kingdom of God, Redeemer, so buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride! It certainly was for the Apostle Paul and Barnabas. They had incredible success. And with it, intense suffering. They’re together. Notice how the passage highlights both their success and their suffering. Look at verse 1: “Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a GREAT number of both Jews and Greeks believed.” There’s the success.

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They hit the synagogue first (which was their standard practice); that is, they went right to where all the religious people were. And in this case, the religious folks were Jews and Greeks (non-Jews who believed in Israel’s God). And what does the text say happened? Look at it. It says, “They spoke in such a way that a great number” of them believed. And as we mentioned when we were back in Chapter 13, the “such a way” in which they spoke to religious people was very similar to the way you’d speak to a lot of people right here in the Twin Cities. You may recall that the Twin Cities has more mega-churches per capita than any other city in the United States. A mega-church is one with over 3,000+ in a weekend. It’s real “churchy” here in the Twin Cities. And how do you speak to religious people? Well, think of how I speak to you every week! Because you’re religious, your greatest temptation is to think that your acceptance with God is based on your religious commitments. Or I could put it like this: as religious people, your greatest temptation is to think that Christianity teaches you to amass a resume and bring it to God so he will accept you. It’s why you feel insecure all the time. It’s why there’s a nagging question in the back of your mind: “Did I do enough? Am I morally pure enough? Have I accomplished enough?” And because of this insecurity, you also feel the need to comfort yourself by appeals to how much better you are than the train wreck sitting next to you, or in your family, or at work. You feel insecure because your understanding of Christianity is to amass a resume; you know your resume is not that good and rather than going to Jesus, you look to how much better you are than the person sitting next to you. That’s how religion functions. Christianity does not teach that you amass a resume and bring it to God so he will accept you. Christianity teaches that Jesus amasses a resume FOR you, gives it to you as a gift when you give up on yourself, and, on that basis alone, welcomes you to the family. It’s called grace…or as you can see in the middle of verse 3, “the word of his grace.” That’s Christianity. And that’s what Paul and Barnabas preached to the

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religious people in the synagogue at Iconium. And what was the result of their preaching in this way? Read verse 1 again. It says, “A GrEAt nuMBEr of both Jews and Greeks believed.” The result was success. Wild success. And yet, the success would not come easy. Read verse 2-7. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country. Here’s what happens: they preach, it’s wildly successful, opposition comes (so much opposition that their lives are threatened), and so they flee. And more than this, even after Paul and Barnabas fled, these people who were creating all these problems FOLLOWED them – and followed them 100 miles, which in the ancient world, was ridiculously far – DAYS away. Check out verse 19: But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. They travelled 100 miles for a lynching! They are motivated! And to lynch him by stoning…which doesn’t mean take the pebbles you’d skip across Lake Minnetonka and start throwing them at Paul. It means go find the biggest rock you can and bash the guy’s head in with it. And if that doesn’t work, go get another one. He must have been barely conscious, a bloody mess. No wonder the crowds were “supposing he was dead”! That’s what I call suffering! So there’s success

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– great success followed by great suffering. And you might even say that the general principle is the greater the success, the greater the suffering.

SuffErInG LEAdS to SuccESS
And more than the suffering FOLLOWING the success, it seems that the suffering LEADS to success. That’s what is remarkable. Isn’t that the idea of verse 22? It is tHrouGH many tribulations that you enter the kingdom of God. You can see this back up in verses 5-7: When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel. What caused the gospel move to Lystra and Derbe? Persecution! The persecution got so hot that the people of Iconium were threatening their lives. So the apostles FLED (according to verse 6) to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country,” where they did what? Verse 7: there they continued to preach the gospel. Did you see that?! The suffering doesn’t just ACCOMPANY the success, it actually ACHIEVES it! That is so counter-intuitive. We think that setbacks, well, set…us…back. Well, NOT in the hands of a sovereign God! In His hands, setbacks ACHIEVE success. He uses the setbacks to accomplish his missionary purposes. So the setbacks don’t set us back AT ALL! It means we are moving forward. It means the gospel is spreading and the kingdom is advancing. It’s just that you can’t see the story that Jesus is writing. You’re a character in it. And as a character, you can’t jump out of the story into the mind of the

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author. You can only know what the author chooses to reveal to you as the story unfolds. It’s only after the fact that you realize that the suffering HAD to happen in order to get to just the right place God wants you to be. And the Lord is so wise in this. We think that because he never gives us the specifics of our suffering, that somehow we’re at a loss. But in reality, you and I are so weak, that if you knew precisely what you were going to face you’d avoid it like the plague. And yet, your avoidance of the suffering is actually the thing that will hinder what God is doing in your life. So knowing the kind of people you and I really are, the Lord keeps us in the dark about the details. It’s actually BETTER for the mission if you don’t know. There’s a scene in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring where a council has been convened by the great elf, Elron, to figure out how to destroy the evil ring of power and who will travel with Frodo (the ring-bearer) to destroy it. And at the conference, Frodo’s friends Merry and Pippen volunteer to accompany with him on the dangerous journey: “There remain two more to be found,” said Elrond. “….Of my household I may find some that it seems good to me to send.” “But that will leave no place for us!” cried Pippin in dismay. “We don’t want to be left behind. We want to go with Frodo.” “That is because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead,” said Elrond. “Neither does Frodo,” said Gandalf, unexpectedly supporting Pippin. “Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go.” 1 And that’s us! We’re half-lings, pint-sized Hobbits, who if we knew precisely the dangers that faced us we would not dare to go. So the Lord, knowing our weakness, doesn’t give us the details. But what he does say can comfort you: setbacks are the ROAD to success. So when they come up (and you don’t know when), you don’t feel like you’re failing. You’re on the right road. So then, what have we seen so far in this passage? Just one thing really: that success and suffering go together in the cause of the Christian mission. Not
1

J R R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Ballentine, 1955), 331.

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only does suffering accompany success, it actually works to achieve that success. And you might think that this would make Paul and Barnabas a little gun-shy when it comes to fulfilling their role in Jesus’ mission to the world. It’s one thing to say, that suffering is a necessary evil on the road to success, but it’s quite another to run TOWARD the suffering that you’re facing. And yet, that’s exactly what Paul and Barnabas do three times in this text. They actually run toward it.

EMBrAcInG tHE SuffErInG
You’re still in the first paragraph of our text. So check out verse 3 for the first example of embracing the suffering. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Did you notice how the verse started with the word “so”? It’s actually the word “therefore.” So read verse 2 together with verse 3. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. THERFORE they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. In other words, the REASON Paul and Barnabas “remained” in Iconium “for a long time” is because of verse 2 – because “unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” They said, “We need to stay longer.” Crazy when you think about it, isn’t it? It’s like, “Oh, man, these people are really hostile! We should stay and preach BOLDLY!” They’re embracing the suffering. They’re not passively accepting it, they’re embracing it.

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The second example of embracing the suffering is found in verse 20-21, after Paul has been stoned and left for dead. Check it out. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. Here in verse 20, Paul has just been stoned almost to death. He decides that he’s going to get up and go BACK INTO the city that he was stoned, and then the next day, venture out on a 60-mile trip. Now let me ask you a question: Would you have done this? I don’t think I would have. I’d want to take a vacation! I’d be like, “Dudes, I need some downtime!” But Paul gets up, goes BACK INTO the city, moves on to that multi-day trip, and goes RIGHT ON preaching the gospel. The third example of embracing the suffering is also found in verse 21. Read it with me. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. Do you see what this is saying?! What happened in Lystra? Paul was stoned! And what happened in Iconium? The unbelieving Jews and Gentiles stirred up the people and poisoned their minds against the apostles and wanted to stone both of them. And what happened in Antioch? Well, look up to 13:50. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. So when you read in 14:21 (you can turn back there) that Paul and Barnabas “RETURNED to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch” read this: THEY RAN RIGHT BACK INTO THE FIRE. Can you imagine the conversation that the Christians in these cities would

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have had with Paul and Barnabas? “What on earth are you guys doing? Paul, you still look terrible! Are you crazy? People want to KILL you. People tried. People almost succeeded! Go home. Get out of here.” Isn’t that what you would have said to them? I mean, I’d be in TOTAL shock that they’d be back. But they would answer differently. What would that answer be? Well, verses 22-23 seem to give us one. [They returned there,] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. So why did Paul and Barnabas return? Because they were committed to the mission, because they cared about these people, because Paul and Barnabas were the only guys who could get them on a trajectory to participate in the mission themselves? Yes, yes, and yes. But that still doesn’t answer the question. At least, not for me. I want to know what would motivate them for the whole project? I want to know why, knowing that it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God – I want to know WHY they would run toward the trouble, the persecution, the difficulty, and the suffering. What would give them the courage to do it? Well, the answer is found in the paragraph that Luke (the author) deliberately squeezed in between the persecution that we read about in paragraphs right before and right after it. Read verses 8-18 with me. Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up

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and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

tHE GEnEroSIty of God
Now when you read this passage, you’ve got to ask the question, “Why would these people be so quick to call Barnabas, Zeus (king of the gods of the Pantheon) and Paul, Hermes (messenger of the gods)? And why would they be so quick to worship them? It seems bizarre and over-the-top. Well, the answer to this question is found in a local legend, recorded for us by the ancient historian, Ovid. The story goes that Zeus and Hermes came to their city before. They visited their city disguised as ordinary men. No one in the city would show them hospitality except one older couple. So because this older couple showed kindness to the gods, they destroyed everyone in the city EXCEPT that couple. So when the people see the Apostle Paul heal a man CRIPPLED FROM BIRTH, see that he has come with a traveling companion, see Paul doing most of the speaking, they figured this was a second visitation of Zeus and Hermes, only this time, they were going to get it right! This time they were going to pay the gods the homage they were due – verse 13:

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And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. From here, the apostles are totally appalled and launch into a presentation of the gospel crafted specifically for their audience. These are not people you’d find in church. These are not faithful attendees at synagogue. These are people who don’t have any apparent connection to the God of the Bible. So rather than doing what he does in synagogue and referring his audience to the Bible, he makes his appeal on the basis of nature. They may not have common ground in a common Bible, but they do have common ground on common ground. Now there is a ton I could say about this approach to preaching the gospel, which I hope to do when the Apostle Paul takes the same approach later in Acts 17 when he’s with the intellectuals of Athens. But I don’t want you to lose the forest for the trees of what’s really happening here. This is not the whole sermon that Paul preached. None of the sermons in the book of Acts are entire sermons. This is Luke’s abstract of that sermon. So the material that Luke includes is meant to convey the essence of the sermon. Think of it as a sermon clip that captures the essence of the message. Or the movie trailer for the sermon. If you keep that in mind, you won’t be left scratching your head about why Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t explicitly mentioned in this passage. The reason it’s not explicitly mentioned is that it’s ASSUMED. You’re meant to combine this with what you’ve already seen for 13 chapters. But more than that, it’s not explicitly mentioned because Luke wants to emphasize something SPECIFIC about this sermon; NAMELY, that the true and living God is TOTALLY different from the gods you invent. In the case of the Lycaonians, why did they offer worship to Barnabas and Paul? Do you remember the story? The last time Zeus and Hermes showed up they killed everybody except the people who honored them. So why do

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they want to worship Barnabas and Saul? Because they’re AFRAID! They’re TERRIFIED. I don’t just say that because of the legend, I say that because of the Lycaonians about-face in verse 19. It says that they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifices to them but in verse 19, Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and they persuaded the crowds to stone Paul and drag him out of the city. So one moment the Lycaonians are worshipping Paul and Barnabas and the next, stoning them. How do you account for that? It’s because their worship was born out of fear. Once they came to realize Paul and Barnabas were just ordinary men, fear gave way to hostility. That is always how it works. It’s like finally coming to realize that you can beat up the bully. Before, you paid him homage from fear. You gave him your milk money because you didn’t want him to clobber you. But now that fear is gone, you can retaliate and have your revenge for all the misery that he caused you. The reason the Lycaonians changed their tune so quickly is precisely because they were motivated by fear. Their gods are hot-tempered. They’re capricious. They’re ready at a moment’s notice to wipe out your entire existence. To use a psychological category, they have Borderline Personality Disorder. They are the gods with BPD. They change their expectations in such a way that their worshippers feel they can never do anything right. They have frightening, unpredictable rages that make no logical sense. They’re anxious and irritable most of the time. You have to walk on eggshells around these gods. 2 But Paul is saying the God of the universe, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is not like that AT ALL! Look especially at verse 17. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. So what kind of God is the true God? He’s a generous God. He’s a loving God. That is the kind of God he is. “He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
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Paul T Mason, Randi Kreiger, Stop Walking on Eggshells (New Harbinger, 1998), 17-18.

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In other words, Paul is saying, “The true God is not like Zeus and Hermes! He loves to be generous. Everything around you proves it.” Or as one commentator puts it: “The pleasures of life are an encouragement to believe in a beneficent Creator.” 3 Beneficent = charitable, generous, benevolent. The pleasures of life encourage you to believe. Do you want to know what the one true God is like? Look around. See his generosity. He’s not like the gods of your own imagination! Not even close. But wait, you say, “I don’t worship false gods.” To which I say, “Either you’re new to Redeemer, or you don’t understand the nature of idolatry. Idolatry is very simple really. Your idol is whatever you say this about: “I need _________ plus Jesus in order to be happy.” • • • • • • • • • A happy marriage Obedient children A rewarding and successful career Six-pack abs People’s approval Recognition for the contribution you’re making A break from the hassle My own home A secure retirement

Tim Keller gives a very helpful explanation in his book, Counterfeit Gods, which includes an illustration from The Lord of the Rings: When most people think of “idols” they have in mind literal statues – or the next pop star anointed by Simon Cowell. Yet while the traditional idol worship still occurs in many places of the world, internal idol worship, within the heart, is universal. In Ezekiel 14:3, God says about elders of Israel, “These men have set up their idols in their hearts.” Like us, the elders must have responded to this charge, “Idols? What idols? I don’t see any idols.” God was saying that the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think,
3

David G Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Eerdmans, 2009), 410.

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they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them. The central plot device of The Lord of the Rings is the Dark Lord Sauron’s Ring of Power, which corrupts anyone who tries to use it, however good his or her intentions. The Ring is what Professor Tom Shippey calls “a psychic amplifier,” which takes the heart’s fondest desires and magnifies them to idolatrous proportions. Some good characters in the book want to liberate slaves, or preserve their people’s land, or visit wrongdoers with punishment. These are all good objectives. But the Ring makes them willing to do anything to achieve them, anything at all. It turns the good thing into an absolute that overturns every other allegiance or value. The wearer of the Ring becomes increasingly enslaved and addicted to it, for an idol is something we cannot live without. We must have it, and therefore it drives us to break rules we once honored, to harm others and even ourselves in order to get it. Idols are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil, in Tolkien’s novel and real life. 4 Are you ready for this? Anything can be an idol – anything at all. And what the Apostle Paul is saying here to the Lycaonians is this: “Don’t go there. Move away from there!” Verse 15: Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God. TURN from these vain things to a LIVING God. Idols are not like that. They are like the Ring of Power. They want to destroy you. They ARE out to get you. They’re EXACTLY as the Lycaonian legend says they are. They are ready to destroy you at a moment’s notice. How do they do this? How do the idols of your heart do this? Well, the idols of your heart will rob you of the joy that God wants to give you by breaking their promise to you AND raising the bar on you. Your idol keeps telling you that if only you have ________, you will be truly
Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton, 2009), xiv-xv.
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happy. But now that you have it, you feel totally disillusioned: “Is this it?” And then, as you’re asking this question, your idol answers and says, “Of course this isn’t it.” “But you promised,” you say. “Look,” it’ll say, “true happiness is found up one more rung on the ladder. Just go up one more.” And as you move between exhaustion and disillusionment, your idol laughs as the life is sucked right out of you. This is not the Christian God. Here is what the Christian God promises: true satisfaction and true joy – the true satisfaction and true joy that’s found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ – and he delivers! He delivers on this promise. He will never break a promise. He will never raise the bar. All you have to do is look at life! How generous and loving and kind must this God be?! The wonderful smell after a spring rain. The basket of fresh strawberries. Dark chocolate. French pastries. The cheeseburger at 112 Eatery. A sunrise. Dinner with good friends. U2. Jimmy Stewart. John Coltrane’s solo on “Flamenco Sketches.” Italian food – ALL of it. I mean, God didn’t have to make the world like this! He didn’t have to. He could have operated from a completely utilitarian standpoint. He could have nourished us simply by taking an odorless, tasteless pill. But he didn’t. This, Paul is saying, is a demonstration of God’s grace. So why would you worship at any other altar? They can’t do that! Run to Jesus Christ! Run to Jesus Christ. RUN TO JESUS CHRIST! God is so gracious and so generous and so good that he gave you even more than all of those wonderful things – he gave you HIS SON. He MUST be generous if he gave the most valuable commodity in the UNIVERSE (and OUTSIDE the universe). And what Luke is saying by locating this message in the context of suffering is this: The only way you and I will be able to suffer well is to remember that the suffering is coming from the hands of a generous, loving GOD. It’s not coming from the hands of a violent, capricious, wicked, foul, unapproachable, miserly deity. It is coming from the hands of the God who is GENEROUS and whose generosity is on display every moment of every day in every part of the world.

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This was really brought home to me very strongly recently as I’ve been suffering with a herniated disc in my neck. It’s been going on for about five weeks, but the first three were just excruciatingly painful. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, night after night, writhing and crying out in pain. It was almost unbearable. And one of those nights as I woke up again, I decided I was going to put Jesus on trial. I said, “What gives? What are you doing? Why are you doing this to me? What is the problem?” I was just so frustrated and so uncomfortable. And then, almost immediately, I remembered what happened last summer to my three-year old, Isaac. We were out to dinner and afterward, Ike was running around the table and he tripped over my daughter’s feet, and his head hit squarely into a wooden booth in the restaurant. The blood was flowing from the center of his head from a gash about an inch-and-a-half long. Of course, we rushed him to the hospital. By the time we got there, the pressure stopped the bleeding, but he was going to need stitches. So the nurses wrapped him in a bed sheet like a mummy, then strapped him into a stretcher that’s used for people with neck injuries, put him on a gurney, and with the nurse, Gayle and I basically laying on top of him while the doctor began to close the wound. The kid went BALLISTIC. Even though the nurse (and doctor) had numbed the spot on his forehead, somehow he felt the pressure of each of the six stitches going in and out. And the whole time that he was foaming at the mouth, and gagging, he was saying to us, “Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.” And because he’s only three, all we could say was, “It’ll end soon. You’re going to be alright. The doctor’s going to make you all better.” And the memory of that experience, the memory rushed into my mind as I suffered on my bed, and I thought, “Jesus is not smiting me. Jesus is not a sadist. My father is not being cruel and unusual. He’s my loving heavenly

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father – far more loving a parent than Gayle or me COMBINED. If we could be that compassionate and tender with Isaac, how much more tender and compassionate is my heavenly father toward me. The lesson here is that what enabled me to go through the suffering was the knowledge of God’s generosity and love. That he is not a Zeus or Hermes who can’t WAIT to wipe you off the face of the earth. He’s the God who’s given you all good things to enjoy, NOT LEAST, his only son, Jesus Christ, to come to rescue you.

concLuSIon
So the mission is full of peril. Success means suffering. And as scary as it sounds to know this, the reality is that you have the resources to endure it, even to embrace it if you remember what your heavenly father is like. He’s not like so many idols that live only to destroy you. He’s the God who only wants to do you good. So don’t be afraid. But trust. Trust in the God who not only gives you all good things to enjoy, but who gave you his son. He couldn’t have been more generous.

© r W Glenn Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in anyformat provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Redeemer Bible Church. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By R W Glenn. © R W Glenn. Website: redeemerbiblechuch.com

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