December 17 lesson: Faith to Persevere

12/4/2017

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Faith to Persevere

Winter Quarter: Faith in Action
Unit 1: The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ

Sunday school lesson for the week of December 17, 2017 
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers


Scripture Lesson: Acts 14: 8-11; 19-23
Background Scripture:  Acts 14


We continue with Paul, Barnabas and Mark on what is now called the First Missionary Journey.  The sacred travelogue moves us from the island of Cyprus to Perga on the mainland of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. We believe it imperative to read chapters 13 and 14 in Acts in its entirety, or otherwise you will miss some important info!

Earlier (in chapter 13) we learn, on reaching Perga, John Mark left the team. Later this action of Barnabas’ relative will cause a severe disagreement with Paul, resulting in a parting of the ways between these two stalwart Christian men.  (Acts 15:36ff)  For the time being, however, for the remainder of this journey, the team is now two—Paul and Barnabas.

They had been in Antioch of Pisidia and have moved inland to Iconium and now to Lystra, where today’s lesson begins. A man who had been lame from birth, much like the one Peter met at the Temple in Jerusalem, was in the synagogue listening intently as Paul preached the good news of Jesus—who He was and what He had accomplished on earth. Paul discerned faith in the man and ordered him to stand and walk. Like the cripple in the temple, not only did he stand, he jumped (NIV)!

Although Greek was the common language, those who lived in the cities of Iconium and Lystra had a dialect of their own. In their tongue they proclaimed Barnabas and Paul gods—Zeus and Hermes! Yes, here these men are proclaimed incarnate gods. Paul and Barnabas were incensed!  They indeed had a message about the Incarnate One, Who came to give His life for all humanity, and the pagan priest of Zeus was about to offer sacrifices to them! Astounding! Unbelievable!  Yet it happened!

Then, emissaries from Antioch and Iconium arrived. They had been upset by the team’s witness in their cities. The gospel always creates opposition wherever preached. Usually, someone’s pocketbook is impacted, or some sensitive pet prejudice is touched—anger is the result. Paul and Barnabas had left these cities because opposition was growing to a violent level, and now the voices of hatred are raised in Lystra! From being worshipped as a god, Paul is now stoned to near death. How fickle we human beings can be! Reminds us of Palm Sunday and Good Friday!

Perceptions can make a huge difference. We have found many different understandings of what it means to be a Christian. The culture defines us in terms that can be totally wrong or warped.  Can you name some? When we enter the world of partisan politics, what can be a profound witness to the truth of Christ can be twisted into a political conundrum. Often we faithful church-goers can bring the misunderstanding upon ourselves as we allow attitudes and actions to betray the very nature of Jesus as He related to people to show God’s universal love.  Narrowness, bigotry, and prejudice become the norm rather than expressions of grace and mercy.  Iconium was little different from South Georgia! Today we don’t stone those with whom we disagree, but the anger and vitriolic language is present nonetheless. 

Paul is left for dead outside the city. A wonderful affirmation occurs in verse 20:  “…when the disciples gathered around him…,” he returned to the city. In spite of opposition, the seeds have been planted and have flourished! There are new followers of Jesus who take care of Paul, and, when he has healed sufficiently, he and Barnabas continue their mission to the next city of Derbe.  

Later, in his letter to the Galatians, which geographically includes this area, Paul declares that he bears on his body “the marks of Jesus.”  (Galatians 6:17) He will bear those scars from the stoning the rest of his life!

Before ending the mission and returning home, the team returns to the very cities where they had met such serious opposition and threats. Why? Their return was based on a very basic truth about discipleship. We need encouragement and growth in the Spirit and in understanding. Later, after the Council in Jerusalem (chapter 15), Paul again wants to revisit these churches for the same reason.

Paul understood the church as a fellowship of worshipping, of learning, of growing, of sharing, and of suffering together for the joy of serving the Lord. A very sad situation occurs when a disciple tries to travel the faith journey alone. We are NOT “Lone Rangers!” Paul would describe the church many times as a body with many parts—none of which can exist without the others.  

Barnabas and Paul return to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch to reinforce the fledgling congregations in their infancy. They shared their personal affirmations, their knowledge of the scriptures, their experiences in their own faith journey, and their understanding of the constant presence of threats to each believer and to the individual churches.  

Ongoing teaching is vitally important, even for those of us “who grew up in the church,” but even more so for new brothers and sisters in the faith. Never assume you can’t learn and grow, regardless of age. We are in our eighth decade of life, and we still read, study, write, and share our faith—and receive  encouragement and learning from others. We believe this pattern will continue as we move from this life to LIFE!  

Paul and Barnabas innately understood this truth, and their return to the scenes of hostility and violence is a witness to these new Christians of their own faith. Where is your witness needed today to encourage others who see you stand tall in the face of opposition to the love and compassion of Jesus? Just stop, look, and listen!

Two actions of this missionary team are important to note. They chose leaders who took time to pray, fast, and listen for the guidance of God through the Holy Spirit The discernment to pick the right people for leadership in the church is an ongoing challenge. As pastor, Sam always took the work of the nominating committee as an opportunity, not a chore required by the Discipline.  Character, habits, commitment, talents, and willingness to give the time to the task are critical in choosing the right persons to lead.

Their second action was a word of caution about suffering. In verse 22 they spelled it out: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” This suffering is not pointless.  We are living in step with Jesus, and it is the result of following Jesus and not conforming to the pattern of the world. God’s kingdom is always cross shaped!

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net