If you stir up a hornets’ nest, you had better expect some retaliation! Paul and Barnabas, by proclaiming the good news about Jesus, had effectively ‘invaded’ the enemy territory. Having had some tremendous success in Pisidian Antioch, they incurred the backlash of persecution and fled to Iconium, a major agricultural region in the province of Galatia. Here again, at first, they had a very effective response to the gospel, helped by a series of miracles and healings, with large numbers of Jews and Gentiles becoming disciples; sadly, this was mixed with fierce opposition from the jealous orthodox Jews, who planned to stone Paul to death. But the apostles were not discouraged by these threats.
It was Jesus who warned against ‘casting pearls to pigs’ – wasting the gospel on those who are unwilling or unready for it. Paul and Barnabas sensibly moved their centre of operations to Lystra, about 20 miles down the road and were rewarded with an almost instant miracle of healing. The ‘patient’ had never walked, but was soon about to do it. Interestingly, Paul “saw that he had faith to be healed” and commanded him to stand up. Clearly, in human terms, this was previously not an option – the man had wanted to stand up every day of his life so far! He couldn’t stand until he was first healed; but perhaps his act of attempting to stand was literally the first ‘step’ of his faith, through which the healing came? The ‘standing’ was both the means and the reward and the evidence of that genuine faith. Are there issues in our lives that require us to take that first step?
It was never dull in Lystra: first they worship you as false gods, and then they decide to stone you to death! The vindictive Jews from the previous two towns had travelled in and stirred up the mob who acted with the characteristic lack of justice and fairness that all mobs do. I’m fairly sure that Paul actually died and was then ‘sent back’ by God to complete the task he had been assigned. If you read 2 Corinthians 12, Paul could have been referring to such a near-death experience.
By comparison, Derbe was like a holiday break! A large church was quickly grown, and the disciples were organised into suitable relationships that would endure. Paul and Barnabas also treated the church as an organic whole, appointing a team of elders (or ‘overseers’) to lead, to care for, and to take authority over the entire group of believers in the locality.
They retraced their steps, through each of the previous towns, again appointing leaders in each one. Whilst every believer is automatically a member of the one universal church, it is also necessary to belong to a local church; what marked out such a group would be submission to a particular team of leaders. In our multi-denominational, Twenty-first Century lives, it is still important to show that same biblical submission to God’s appointed leaders, even if the leadership style has changed somewhat (and probably should have).
Arriving back at their home city of Antioch, they communicated carefully with their own church about the mission of God to the Gentiles. After an exhausting but exhilarating two years of travelling, they needed a long, long rest in one place! Let’s emulate that rhythm of working and resting, travelling and staying, feasting and fasting – that the apostles found so effective.
1 KINGS 8
The Temple, having been completed, it was now time for the Ark to be transported and installed into the Holy of Holies that had been prepared for it. It had been held in a tent at Zion, the old city of David, where the temple musicians had conducted their daily worship; the remainder of the Tabernacle equipment and altars had remained at Gibeon, where the daily sacrifices had taken place. Thus, for the first time in many years, there was a re-unification of all functions of the worship of God under one roof. 1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 5 describe the scene.
The Ark, representing the presence of The Lord and his Covenant with Israel was the key feature of the Temple and had pride of place in the ‘Most Holy Place’, a room without any natural or artificial light (God alone provided that) and set aside totally for his presence; only the High Priest was permitted to enter that room – and only then on one occasion per year. The poles that were used to carry the Ark remained in the rings attached to its side. No-one would ever carry it again! Once the Ark had been positioned in its rightful place, the Temple became so full of the cloud of God’s presence that no-one could even enter it for a while. This passage prompts us to ask ourselves whether we have such a zeal and reverence for the presence of The Lord in our lives. We are not talking about visiting a particular building – religious or otherwise – but having the awareness that the Holy One dwells in our bodies, in our lives, and in our gatherings.
Solomon, acting as High Priest for the day as well as King, turned to the leaders of Israel and, representing God, he blessed them. Afterwards, he turned around to face the altar, this time representing Israel to God, and prayed for the presence of God to fill the temple for ever. He then prayed for the temple to be a platform for justice and for mercy, for the forgiveness of sins and for success in war and in peace. This would be whether those asking were Jews or foreigners, present in person or many thousands of miles away.
They then dedicated the Temple with many sacrifices, in a ceremony lasting 14 days; that was Dedication Week itself, followed by the Feast of Tabernacles lasting a week also.