After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch… (14:21 CSB)
The book of Acts shows the continuing acts of Jesus the Messiah by the Holy Spirit through the apostles (sent ones). Much of this work concerned the starting and building up churches (local gatherings of followers of Jesus Christ). Paul and Barnabas had gone out from Antioch on what proved to be a hazardous journey to labor with the Lord in this good work. After several trials, they were able to start a couple churches. From those churches, the message of salvation would spread throughout the interior of Asia Minor. Luke gives us the bullet points of what they did to help us in what we ought to do to spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV). We need to take these verses to heart, because our churches seem to lack any Biblical idea of what they are supposed to do.
Real life ministry. The apostles entered Derbe after a narrow escape in Lystra. Opposition to their message was intense, even more, it was vicious. The point is that it was not an easy situation. At church picnics we used to play ballgames with plastic balls and bats. That is not what Barnabas and Paul were involved in. This was major league hardball where the opponents were cutthroat. The Lord did not put them in places set up for their success, which some suppose was the case. They went where the situation could turn deadly (cf. Acts 14:19). This provides us with hope. Many local churches feel defeated when their outreach initiatives are rejected by the community. The apostles continued when people were throwing rocks at them. We must expect setbacks; we need to persevere in faith.
Preaching. This is the means that contemporary people assume cannot work any longer. Some say, it might have worked for the apostles and men like Calvin, Whitefield, and Spurgeon when there were far less distractions. It might have worked for Billy Graham in the last century when people were still fascinated by large religious crowds and television. But not today. And so the church walks away from the means the Holy Spirit uses. To preach is to proclaim God’s word, the Bible, and to call people to respond by changing their minds and believing the truth of the word. I do a lot of small group ministry where there is much discussion. I think that is also a valid and important means that the Spirit of God wants us to use. But he also tells us to Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV).
The gospel—the good news. This is the message of salvation in Christ Jesus the Lord and what he accomplished through his death and resurrection. Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2-4 ESV). When we tell people the good news, we speak of a person, God’s Anointed One (Christ or Messiah) that he sent to deal with the most important issue separating us from God; namely our sins (our rejection of the living God as our God, our refusal to love him, and our rebellion against him and his commands). This is a message of grace. God took the initiative and did what was necessary. Now, we can be right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We have Christ’s righteousness credited to our account (Romans 3:21-4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). Since we are united to Christ, God fully accepts us for Jesus’ sake. Rejoice in that!
They made disciples. This is our mission, our purpose, our goal (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 1:17). A local church does not exist to build a building to seat people to collect money from them, so that the church can build a bigger or nicer building! The church is not a place you go to, but people in Christ with whom you share new life in Christ. We seek to make people learners (disciples) of Christ, so that they can glorify God by enjoying him forever.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s learn from the example of the apostles. They were concerned about the glory of God and the good of people. Let’s get involved in the mission that the Lord Jesus has given to us.
Grace and peace, David