After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (NLT)
At first glance this passage simply records yet another episode in the life of the early missionaries. What makes it significant is what was described a few verses earlier. Those towns of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch were places where Paul and Barnabas were savagely persecuted. Most of us would have written them off and sought safer places.
In this case, the apostles returned. Not because they were masochists who enjoyed suffering, but because they recognised people in those places were still open to the good news. Sharing that good news, building up the believers, was important enough for them to enter ‘the lions’ den’ once again.
Little wonder that part of their message to those infant churches was to accept that hardships were part of their Christian journey. A world away from some approaches which sugar-coat the gospel and assure people of wealth and health and happiness.
It does take some courage to follow Jesus. We may have to take risks and incur opposition as we live out our faith. While we may bring some attack on ourselves, there is no denying that the gospel message is offensive to some. Jesus copped flak, so will we.
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