Opening Doors on Acts 14 (Sermon)
Hi, I am pastor Rob, and it is a pleasure to be with you today!
Could I have the children 9 and under come up to the front, please? I want your help.
- What is this? (A: Doorknob)
- What is this? (A: Key)
- What is this? (A: Screwdriver)
- What is this? (A Shoe)
- What is this? (A: Crowbar)
- What is this? (A: Ramming tool to break down walls or an ax)
Let me tell you a story. I live in an older house. One of my brothers came out and visited with his family a few years back. He and his wife and two kids were having a wonderful time until his daughter had to go to the bathroom. She was maybe three and a spitfire. She closed the door. After a while, we heard a knocking, if I remember correctly. She was trying to come out. She called for help. We turned the knob it wouldn’t open. She had locked the door. We didn’t have a key. We tried to tell her how to open the door. She couldn’t figure it out. What were we going to do? Would we have to break down the door? We could try to kick the door down or use a crowbar or even this fire tool. My brother got a screwdriver out, and we took apart the plate around the doorknob. From there, we were able to unlock the door, and it was open again.
Today, we are going to talk about doors being open and closed spiritually. The Bible speaks of open doors in Acts 14, and I see four. See if you can remember what they were. Thanks for your help. You can have a seat.
I am going to invite _______ up here to read for us the scripture. He will be reading the English Standard version of the Bible. What I like about this version is, it is a word for word translation. So we get closer to the Greek than an idea for idea. The ideas are important. So much happens in the text. So many ideas are here. Let me encourage you to read ahead each week so that you know what is coming. When we work through a chapter at a time, you will get the context better. We can’t cover it all. You will be blessed.
Here at Sawyer, we have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s word. Would you stand with now, if you are able?
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. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.3 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. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 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!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 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. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 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, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 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.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.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. 20 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. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 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. 23 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.24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 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. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.
Dear God, thank you for all you have done for us. As we hear your words, inspire, encourage, and equip us for the work you have. May you get all the glory, praise, and honor. AMEN. You can have a seat.
We have been teaching through Acts, and we are about halfway through. We have been focusing mainly on the ministry of Peter. Recently, the book shifts gears to the ministry of Paul.
Today, as I said earlier, we will see four doors seem to close as the gospel moves forward. Paul and Barnabas are the main players in the story. As they travel from Antioch to Iconium, some 90 miles away, we hear how people respond to their message. In Iconium, they share the good news about Jesus Christ, and it spreads to Jews and Gentiles alike. Let’s turn to Acts 14, verse 1 and see it for ourselves.
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.
People believed. This isn’t the first time people believed. Verse 1 is repeated over and over again as the promise of Acts 1:8 is fulfilled. You may remember what Jesus said in the first chapter of Acts.
8 ...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
#Door Number 1: POISON
The gospel is going to the ends of the earth. It starts in Jerusalem and then to the rest of what is now Israel, after that it goes to Syria, Africa, Turkey, Greece, Rome, and Spain. The doors of the gospel are opening wide. However, in verse 2, we see the first obstacle in Paul and Barnabas’ path.
The Poison Door
I had fun naming these doors. They remind me of the juvenile fiction my children read. Look at verse 2.
2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
The minds of the people were poisoned. God had opened the door, and now in verse 2, minds were poisoned.
Have you ever been pouring your life into someone and they walk away or shutdown? Alternatively, maybe everything seems to be working out, and then for some reason, it all falls to pieces? That is what was happening to some of the people Paul and Barnabas were talking to. Jews heard what Paul and Barnabas were saying and started stirring the pot. They were poisoning the minds of the hearers. How frustrating is that?
So what do Paul and Barnabas do? Maybe they were tempted to think, “Forget it. Let’s just give up and throw in the towel and move on.” What do they do?
Read verse 3.
3 So they remained for a long time,
Stop. They didn’t give up. They didn’t quit. They didn’t get out of town. They stuck around. That takes guts. But that is not all. Keep reading.
3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord,
What did they do in town? They didn’t just hang out and play cards. They kept preaching the message. They kept doing what they were commissioned to do. They boldly spoke for the Lord. They shared their faith. They pointed people back to what matters: Jesus. They were courageous, brave, and outspoken.
Christianity is not ultimately about helping people pay their bills, rise above the poverty level, get out of debt, or fill their house with stuff. It is not about morality or living the safest, best life yet. It is not about healing broken marriages or keeping your kids away from drinking, sex, and drugs. Christianity is about something more important than all of that, our relationship with our maker. Christianity is about you and I and God getting right. It can result in morality and economic stability. But that is not the purpose nor hope of Paul and Barnabas as they walked 90 miles and faced verbal abuse head on.
Christianity is hard. What profit, Jesus asks, is it to gain the whole world and forfeit your soul? That is a rhetorical question. It isn’t a profit to gain the world and lose your soul. It is a loss, a loss more significant than anything you or I could fathom. Jesus offers something you or I could never buy, earn, or payback, peace with God the Father forever through the Son of God’s death on our behalf. We are sinners in need of a savior. We need forgiveness. I believe that is the essential message Paul and Barnabas shared with the people in Iconium. If they were like most idolatrous nations, the people sacrificed or kept a bunch of rules, or had to be born in the right family to earn favor with the gods. This message is unique and new.
Typically we deal with sin in one of two ways. Both are wrong. In one religious system, we work to undo the wrong we have done, and work and work and work and work. In another religious system, we deny the wrongdoing ever existed. Christianity acknowledges the wrong and calls it like it is, sin, and then offers a solution, Jesus. That is the message of the good news of Paul and Barnabas.
Paul and Barnabas press into the hard amid opposition. They speak boldly for the Lord. Guess what God does, look at verse 3.
3 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.
Who bore witness? Is the word “Who” referring to God or Paul and Barnabas? I think it is God. God was the one showing up validating Paul and Barnabas’ message with signs and wonders.
Imagine a group of people opposed to you. Their minds poisoned, and they are poisoning others. Yet, they need to know God’s love found in Jesus. They need to know that God wants to have a right relationship. Paul and Barnabas know that and decide to go against the flow and keep speaking at the risk of their reputation and safety. What does God do? He allows their ministry to flourish supernaturally. Doors fly open. They do signs and wonders! What signs and wonders? Healings, perhaps. Those have happened in this book so far. Maybe it was the ability to speak languages they didn’t know. That happened in chapter 2 and chapter 10:46 or predict the future, like the prophets we heard about in 11:27-28, 13:1. We don’t know exactly, but the signs of God were wondrous and pointed to the truth of what Paul and Barnabas were teaching.
DOOR # 2 Pain
That is not the end of the story. We have seen the first door was the door of poison. Now, in verse 5, we get to another door that is closing, the door of pain:
The Door of Pain.
Look at verse 5.
5 an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with the rulers, to mistreat and stone them,
Opposition mounts. The Jews and Gentile rulers went from verbally attacking Paul and Barnabas, seeking to harm them physically.
This wasn’t the first time this had happened to Christians. In chapter seven, Stephen was stoned to death. In chapter 12, the apostle James was killed by the sword (12:2). Of the eleven remaining Apostles, ten will eventually die for their beliefs about Jesus. Peter and John were mistreated, thrown into prison (4:3, 12:3). Jesus’s followers were imprisoned (8:3). Iconium was becoming a dangerous place to minister.
So what do Paul and Barnabas do after verse 5? Do they just work harder? Do they stick it out? Look at verse 6.
6 they learned of it and fled.
Now, was that okay? Friends, it is okay to run if God is calling you to run. As brave as it was to stick around under the verbal poisoning, I don’t see any judgment on them for wanting to save their lives. Jesus got away from Jerusalem when it was not his time to die. He tells his followers to wipe the dust off their feet if people don’t receive them. We don’t have to be martyrs. We have to be faithful. Paul is willing to die for his faith. Paul later will say in chapter 20 this.
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul was willing to die to follow the Spirit’s leading. Paul and Barnabas did not feel the need to stick around in Iconium and die. They moved on. Moving is fine if the Spirit is leading the move. It is not giving up. The believers in the town presumably stuck around; the leadership was against Paul and Barnabas at this time, not those who were in the faith. It was Paul and Barnabas they wanted to mistreat.
Where did Paul and Barnabas go? Look at verse 6.
6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra
Paul and Barnabas went to Lystra, about 20 miles southwest.
What God does in Lystra is fantastic. It is miraculous. It is the stuff that gets noted. God heals a man born unable to walk (verses 8-10). He can walk! Not only that, his muscles changed enough that he, look at verse 10, he sprang up.
Imagine that! Presumably, he should not have been able to spring up. When you sit for prolonged periods, your muscles atrophy. You can’t spring up. However, he sprang up. Have you ever seen anything like that? This is not special effects or some fraud. This man was known locally for his inability. He wasn’t a stranger. This doesn’t happen. People saw it and noticed it. This was extraordinary. God was opening doors. Miracles validated messages; this was a sign and wonder. From time to time, God does the extraordinary to get our attention. I hear that he does this and more so on the mission field.
Hebrews 2:4 states,
4 ...God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
God willed the gifts, the miracles, the wonders, the signs, and the healing of a man born without the ability to walk. As soon as people saw that they misunderstood. They began thinking Paul was Hermes and Barnabas, Zeus. This brings us to door number three:
The Door of the gods
We have seen a door of poison, a door of pain, and now the door of the gods.
#Door number 3 Door of the gods
I think some of us long for fame and honor, but worship? That is a bit over the top, or is it? Maybe that would be fun for a day? Think about it. People adore you. They love you. They sacrifice to you. They give you things. They follow you. You have fame. You have prestige. You have power. Doesn’t that sound intoxicating? I think of Galadriel and Gandolph in the Lord of the Rings when offered the ring of power.
How do you handle misplaced recognition? Are you tempted to take credit for what God has done? Can you share the glory and honor with another? Do you get jealous when others get recognition? Have you ever had that experience where people compliment you for something you didn’t do, but you take credit? You let them think, you were the one who did the amazing job? The people in Lystra were worshipping Paul and Barnabas. This was real. Maybe it would be tempting for them to enjoy it for the day.
A commentator has said,
“If Satan cannot derail Christian witness with persecution, he will try praise. Too much persecution has destroyed many preachers, and too much praise has ruined many others. One of the problems with miracles is that they often draw more attention to the miracle worker than to God.”
I think the problem is not a miracle. It is who gets the credit.
Practically, if Paul and Barnabas take credit, what would the mob do when Paul and Barnabas let them down? The crops die, someone can’t get pregnant, or a family member passes. What would they do to Paul and Barnabas if they find out they didn’t have the power they thought? What would they do when they find out who they really were? As quickly as the crowd worships, they can turn and stone. Being a celebrity can be deadly. The focus in Lystra is off.
What do Paul and Barnabas do with this door of the gods? Look at verse 14. Do they let the miracles go to their heads? Do they become full of themselves? How do they respond?
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd
Paul and Barnabas expressed their extreme disapproval and tore their clothes. Tearing your clothes was a cultural sign that something was wrong. People worked hard to secure clothing. It is not like you can go to Walmart or online and order another tunic. No, an animal had to be killed or skinned. People made clothes by hand. Tearing was significant. This same commentator I quoted earlier said, “Usually they tore the robe for about four or five inches from the neckline.” Yes, there is a God, but it is not them. Paul and Barnabas confront the crowd.
They rush to the crowd. They want to stop the insanity. What do they say? They cry out a question. Why? Why are you doing this?
They aren’t looking for an answer. After the question, they tell the crowd they are ordinary people, not Zeus and Hermes. They tell them who God really is. God made everything they see. He is the creator. He made the sky and the sea and all that is in it. They tell them to stop and see the living God who is reaching out to them.
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, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 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.”
That message could have been encouraging or disappointing for the hearers. For the priest who makes a living taking people’s sacrifices to Zeus or Hermes, they might have been threatened. For the person who is looking for grace and answers, they might have been so excited that finally, they can find peace in a world of guilt and shame and confusion.
We see there is not one response to doors in this chapter. Nor are all the barriers alike. Sometimes people misunderstand and they confront, sometimes they are offended and Paul and Barnabas move on, sometimes people don’t know what they are missing and God blows away all the doors.
#Door Number 4: Door of Death
It wasn’t long after this confrontation, that we get to the last door, the door of death.
We have seen a door of poison, a door of pain, the door of the gods, and here is a door of death.
The Door of Death
The Jews didn’t want to let Paul and Barnabas continue. They traveled 20 miles from Iconium and the 90 miles from Antioch to take them down. I think verse 19 is the climax of the chapter. This is it. Here is the nail in the coffin. Stephen is dead. James is dead. Now Paul must die. Verse 19,
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 killed him, at least that is what they thought.
The text says, “supposing that he was dead.” He certainly could have been. We know God raises the dead. He is the living God. He made all things, sustains all things, and will raise us at the last day. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Nothing can stop God. In verse 20 we see that God will bust down this door of death.
I told the story of my niece locked in the bathroom. We tried to protect my antique door. But if she was in danger, we would tear down that door in a heartbeat. Friends, God wants the gospel to go forward to the end of the earth. This is not a white man’s religion. It begins on the continent of Asia and goes to Africa before it goes to Europe. God uses everyday people. He chose to demonstrate His miraculous power through Paul again and again. Nothing can stop God.
Look at verse 20
20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up
Paul rose up! That is incredible.
Not only that.
20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city
Paul went back to the very people who left him for dead. What a message to see Paul walking back into town. I imagine Clint Eastwood walking back into the face of danger, but it is Paul sharing the love of Christ walking back into Lystra. Incredible! You can’t make this stuff up. How do you argue with Paul after he rose up? As far as we know, they don’t try to stone him again. From there, Paul and Barnabas head to Derbe to sharing the same powerful message of God’s saving grace in Jesus.
Go to verse 21.
21 they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples,
God is breaking down doors left and right. People were coming to faith and believing. They were becoming followers of Jesus, disciples. That is how chapter 14 began and ends.
The gospel moves forward in spite of opposition. What happened next continues to blow my mind.
What do Paul and Barnabas do? They turn around. They head back to the very places that stoned Paul, misunderstood their message, sought to harm them, and slandered them.
Notice their focus. What is it? Look at verse 22-23.
22 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. 23 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.
Their focus is on strengthening the church. They do it in two ways. First, they are encouraging them to persevere. God’s people persevere. Trials will come. Stay strong. Keep on keeping on. Paul and Barnabas know what it is like to suffer. They can speak to the believers who stuck around. It is not easy being a follower of Jesus. They understand.
Secondly, Paul and Barnabas travel around helping develop leadership structures in these baby churches, namely a team called “elders”. This is something we do in our church every year too. There is value in having a team approach as opposed to a single leader.
Can anyone name all our elders at our church? We have a leadership team that has 10 elders....
We use the Bible as our guide for qualifications. These men, provide oversight, spiritual care, and help equip you for ministry. Paul and Barnabas want healthy churches and help establish them through encouragement and organization.
When Paul and Barnabas finally returned to the church that sent them out, Antioch, on this first missionary journey, they give a mission report.
26 from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 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.
The question I ask myself in preparation of a message is always, why was this written down? What do we gain from this passage? I see three things to remember.
A reminder that closed doors are normal. Paul’s report points to the amazing reality that the door is opened from time to time, not that the door gets closed. Tribulation and persecution happen. Paul said to Timothy, who was from Lystra and Derbe.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted - 2 Timothy 3:12.
Jesus said something like this first.
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33)
For us, we need to realize that this life is not all there is. We will suffer for doing right. Suffering is normal. Doors are closed in general. Being a Christian is hard. That is why we need God’s Spirit, Word, and each other.
Secondly, we must remember, our God is the one who opens doors. As much as the doors seem bleak, Paul saw that doors opening not closing. Miracles were happening, people were believing, God is living and active. He is the door opener. God is not done. I think sometimes we need to have a spiritual eye exam. The doors open around us from time to time; yet, we don’t always see it. God may be creating a responsiveness to Himself in our children, neighbors, or co-workers. God is at work. Tune into our mission reports and hear how God is at work. Pastor Jeff will come back with some updates from the field and listen to how God is working. Remember, God is opening up doors. Fix your gaze on God.
One way to see what God is doing is to come back tonight at 7:00 PM to hear about the doors God has opened in the youth this summer as well as a mission team that just went to Peru.
Finally, this passage sets the example for us as witnesses that we must be faithful regardless of cost. Paul and Barnabas sacrificed their lives for the gospel. What are we willing to risk? We must be careful about praise and persecution that neither divert us from our mission. Let us pursue sharing our faith and encouraging one another in spite of the cost.
Maybe, God is opening up doors for you to share the gospel with your neighbor, co-worker, classmate, and friend. We would love to hear how God is at work in you and pray for you. Email the office, tell us in person, put it on a connect card. Let us share how God is opening the doors and walk forward as he leads.
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