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In our last post from the book of Acts we looked at how Paul and Barnabas began with a foundation of humility. If you want to read more you can find that blog post here: Paul, Barnabas, and Humility–Acts 14:8-18. In today’s post we’ll look at how Paul imitated Jesus all through Acts chapter 14, and what the implications are when anyone, including you and I, emulates or imitates Jesus.
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.Acts 14:19-23
So leading up to our current passage we have this wild series of events. At the beginning of chapter 14, in previous blog posts we saw how, in Iconium, a great many Jews and Gentiles believed in Jesus after hearing Paul and Barnabas. Signs and wonders were done by their hands, but the city of Iconium was divided, some believing in Christ and some opposing him. The unbelievers stirred up the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas and they made a plan to stone them. So Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra.
At Lystra Paul healed the man who had been lame from birth, and he did it in front of a large crowd. Upon seeing the miracle, the crowd decides Barnabas must be Zeus in disguise and Paul must be Hermes. Of course Paul and Barnabas emphatically reject this idea, and they encourage the crowd to abandon their mythological gods and to follow the One True and living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
Which brings us to today’s text. Enter a group of unbelieving Jews who traveled to Lystra from Antioch, a four or five day journey. They joined together with unbelievers from Iconium (Iconium was only about twenty miles away) in opposition against Paul and Barnabas. But they had a problem. They’re from Antioch and Iconium so they have no jurisdiction in Lystra where the lame man was healed and where Paul and Barnabas were sharing about Jesus. So they persuaded the local crowds to execute Paul. Persuading the crowds may have been made easier after Paul and Barnabas rejected their assigned identities as mythological gods. They dragged Paul out of the city. And they stoned him. And they left him for dead.
All this information comes from Keener, who also adds that the crowd left Paul for dead with good reason. Stonings were performed as a means of execution and the method was very effective. Paul’s survival is a miracle. That Paul rose up and walked away is an even greater miracle.
After rising up, Paul walks back to the city of Lystra, and the next day he and Barnabas started for Derbe which was about sixty miles away. In Derbe, Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel and many there become disciples of Jesus.
And then, they go back to the very places where they were persecuted and nearly executed. They return to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where they spend their time encouraging people in the faith. And they also set up elders in leadership for every church. With prayer and fasting they committed those elders to leadership in Christ.
Paul Imitating Jesus
I love the parallels between what Paul does and what Jesus did, and, how Paul does what he does in the same way Jesus did what he did.
Paul travels to a town and shares about the kingdom, even as Jesus did.
Paul performs signs and wonders, even as Jesus performed signs and wonders.
Paul faced opposition even as Jesus faced opposition.
Paul escaped a plot to kill him even as Jesus escaped plots to kill him.
Paul was misunderstood even as Jesus was misunderstood. (Acts 14:11-13)
Paul healed a lame man even as Jesus healed lame men.
Paul was executed even as Jesus was executed.
Paul “rose again” if you will, even as Jesus rose again. (Although it’s likely Paul’s rising was not from actual death in the same way Jesus rose.)
And then Paul encourages people in Christ, even as Jesus encouraged people after his resurrection.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1.
We see in chapter 14 just how real Paul’s imitation of Jesus was.
Suffering and Following Jesus
Which brings me to the main point of this blog post. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, and/or you’ve read the Love Like Jesus book, and/or you regularly read your Bible, there’s a good chance you often pray along these lines:
“Father, please make me into the likeness of Jesus to the greatest degree possible.”
I know I’ve prayed that prayer many times.
And then, what happens but God answers our prayers.
And we suffer.
Like Jesus we’re misunderstood.
Like Jesus someone or some group oppose us.
Like Jesus we suffer physical pain in one form or another.
Like Jesus we face trials and tribulations.
But here’s the thing. There’s a second part to all of that and it’s the part where God wants us to respond like Jesus. He wants us to walk through our suffering the way Jesus walked through his suffering, the way Paul did in our text.
After Jesus’ suffering, Jesus didn’t stay down, he rose again.
During and after Jesus’ suffering, Jesus encouraged others in the faith.
During and after Jesus’ suffering, Jesus went about doing good.
During and after Jesus’ suffering, Jesus went about the business of loving God and loving people.
The people I observe who are most effective at sharing Jesus and communicating the love of Jesus are those who have suffered well in the sight of God and those who are currently suffering well in the sight of God.
So if we really want to become like Jesus, it’s likely there will be suffering involved.
And if we really desire to be made into the likeness of Jesus to the greatest degree possible, we need to suffer well, the way Jesus did. And the way Paul did too.
After the stoning, after he rose up, Paul went about “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.” (Acts 14:22)
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Second Edition
InterVarsity Press, 2014, pp. 363-364
Available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.
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