Through Many Tribulations We Must Enter the Kingdom of God
We read yesterday that the people of Lystra were so bent on offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking them to be gods, that the apostles were scarcely able to restrain them from such sacrilege. Today we read of the fickleness of the hearts of such men, men who will worship and adore one day and curse and kill the next. The Jews did this with Jesus as well, hailing him as King of the Jews on Sunday, and calling for his crucifixion on the following Friday. Such is man without God.
So in this case, Jews came down from Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium, some one-hundred miles away, where Paul and Barnabas had preached the Gospel several weeks or months before, and stirred up the crowds against them, such that the people stoned Paul to death, or so they thought. Having dragged Paul outside the city, we read that the disciples gathered around him. These disciples I take to be the new believers of Lystra who were there no doubt to mourn their father and teacher in the faith. Or perhaps they were there to pray over him that he might recover. Either way, Paul did recover, and he and the disciples “entered the city.” Wait a minute … they entered the city, the city where Paul was just stoned? Yes, that’s the one. Jesus did the same thing (John 11:7, 8, 16). We are then told that he and Barnabas proceeded the next day to Derbe, another sixty or so miles east of Lystra, where they preached and made disciples, though we are given no details. And then, as if having reached the end of their journey, they returned to their home base at Antioch (in Syria), travelling through the cities where they had preached and founded churches before in Lystra (where Paul was stoned), Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, “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.”
So they strengthened them and encouraged them, telling them that they must endure tribulations to enter the Kingdom. This seems an odd way to strengthen and encourage someone, and it’s light years from the way we understand encouraging a believer in America today. I submit that the church of the New Testament was of a more masculine temperament that the church of today, and that we would do well to emulate it. The apostles also appointed elders in every church as they went along, indicating that the early churches had a plurality of elders, which in this context, I take to mean men, who understood the cost and the sacrifice of following Christ, and that only through many tribulations do we enter the kingdom of God.