June 10, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Would you open your Bible to Acts chapter 14? We’re going to go straight to the Bible. We’ll be an Acts chapter 14. We’re going to look at two verses. -verses19 and 20. I’m convinced these two verses, if you read them really quickly, you’re going to miss two of the most significant, perhaps two of the most powerful verses in the book of Acts, maybe in the New Testament. Let’s look at verses 19 and 20. Here’s what the Bible says, starting in verse 19:
Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. 20 After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
Two verses. That’s all we’re going to look at today. We’re going to dissect these two verses, and we’re going to see what it looks like to handle the challenges of life.
I’ll tell you a true story about a guy who was able to hang on and hang in there, no matter how bad the challenges got. When he was a child, he spoke with a lisp. He grew up in England. The child spoke with the lisp, and because of that, his schoolmates used to make fun of him, but this boy refused to quit. He refused to allow it to keep him down. He wasn’t really good in school. He probably should have dropped out of school and pursued the family business, but he wouldn’t let his inability in school hold him down. He refused to quit.
When World War I started, he loved this country. He wanted to serve the United Kingdom, and he applied for the military, but they turned him down and told him he was unfit for service. He refused to quit and decided to pursue a life of politics, and then he eventually made it to political office.
His first opportunity to ever stand in front of the House of Commons, to stand in Parliament, the day that he stood up to speak (listen to this), the entire Parliament got up and walked out of the room and left him standing by himself, and he refused to quit. He spoke to the empty chairs in Parliament. This man I’m referring to is Sir Winston Churchill, who would become the Prime Minister of England.
Listen to this: When the entire world was ready to surrender, when everyone was willing to quit and give up and give in to Adolf Hitler, that one man rallied his nation. That one man refused to quit. That one man held his country together, and you can really say because of his iron will, his refusal to quit, Sir Winston Churchill held the entire free world together against Adolf Hitler when nation after nation after nation was surrendering. And it’s because he refused to stop, he refused to quit.
I. Expect opposition
Today we’re going to dissect these two verses from Acts chapter 14, and today we’re going to see, life is going to throw you some curve balls, and when life throws you curve balls, when you get knocked down, how do you handle the challenges of life? There are 3 things that I want you to see from Acts chapter 14. Here’s the first. Would you write this down as we dissect these two verses together?
Expect opposition, because it’s going to happen to you.
I think what this statement means is, what kind of fantasy world does somebody live in when they don’t think anyone will ever speak ill, anyone would ever stand against them? That’s just not the world that we live in. People are going to say ugly things. They’re going to do you wrong. We should just expect that right out of the gate.
Now let’s go back to Acts chapter 14, verse 19 for a second. I’m going to give you the background, the back story, and then we’re going to read this one verse over again. Here’s what’s happening immediately before this in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas, these 2 Christian men, have gone to a city called Lystra, and they’re preaching. And their preaching is so powerful, their message and the miracles that God is doing through these 2 men are so powerful, that the people of Lystra literally believe they’re in the presence of the gods, like they believe that the gods have left Mount Olympus and come down to Earth, and the people in the town of Lystra immediately before this, they’re ready to worship Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas have to work really hard just to stop the crowds from offering sacrifices to these 2 men because of the great power that God is demonstrating because of their message, like this is as good as it gets, right?
And the word starts to spread about Paul and Barnabas about their message of Christianity, that Jesus the Jew was crucified, laid in a tomb and 3 days later rose again, and the word starts to get around to this neighboring town of Iconium. But word spreads pretty far, because word gets all the way over to the town of Antioch. It’s a hundred miles from Lystra to Antioch, and the Jewish leadership in Iconium, the Jewish leadership in Antioch, they’re ready to do whatever it takes to stop this man from preaching this message.
So that’s the backstory of Acts chapter 14. Let’s hear verse 19 again:
Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead.
Did you just see what the Bible says? The people are fickle. They love you today; they hate you tomorrow. -hate you to the point that they’re ready to kill you. When they won over the crowds, they started a riot. There was a mob, and this crowd stoned Paul. I don’t know what happened to Barnabas at this point, but they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city. And look at how the verse ends. They’re convinced that Paul is already dead or that he’s not going to recover from these wounds.
Back in the Old Testament, an ancient way of punishing somebody to the point of death is to throw rocks at them, and I don’t want you to get the impression that this didn’t hurt. They’re throwing rocks at him, and they are going to keep persecuting, keep oppressing Paul to the point that they’re already convinced that he’s dead. The only reason why they drug him out of the city streets and left him there is because they’re already convinced that he’s dead, and what I’m saying is, if Paul was still moving, if he still looked like he was alive, they would keep beating him, because they’re willing to do whatever it takes to kill this man and to stop him from spreading this message. Whatever it takes, they’re trying to silence the message by killing the messenger, and this kind of opposition is about as extreme as it gets. This is as good as it gets the day before this, and as bad as it gets in the Bible, right here in this 1 verse. Paul knew what it was like to get knocked down a time or two.
You could arguably say perhaps the greatest football coach of all time is a guy by the name of Vince Lombardi. Lombardi used to say this to his team. He used to say, “It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters is how many times you get back up.” You see, maybe one of the things that made Vince Lombardi such a great coach is that he didn’t try to teach his team how not to get knocked down. Lombardi understood the game of football. He knew the game is designed to knock you to the ground. I can’t prevent you from getting knocked down.
Vince Lombardi would probably would tell you that life is going to knock you down. The game is stacked against you. Of course, it’s going to knock you down. The challenge is not, how do you stay on your feet? The challenge then becomes, how do you learn to get back up and to get back after it again? -because it’s going to knock you down, and life will knock you down again and again. Maybe that’s happened to you. Maybe it happened to your marriage, and your husband walked in the doors, and he just looked you in the eyes and he said, “I’m done. I want a divorce.” Or your wife said, “I’ve had an affair. It’s over.” And all of a sudden, life just knocked you down.
Maybe it was at school with a professor. I was just having lunch yesterday with a guy in our city who said, “I started to stand up, and I started to speak out, and my professor has been berating me every class period here in this community because of my faith in Jesus, and now I’m trying to figure out how to keep it together.”
II. Endure persecution
Here’s what I’m saying to you. I would be negligent as your pastor if I told you that when you give your life to Jesus, it’s all going to be a bed of roses after that. In fact, I would not do justice to the teachings of the Bible if I allowed you to believe that. Life isn’t going to knock you down. It is a guaranteed. That’s the promise from Jesus. He says to us, life will knock you down. John chapter 15, verse 20: “They persecuted me; they’re going to persecute you.” People are going to oppose you, and sometimes they’re going to oppose you to the point that it hurts.
Not only do you have to learn to expect opposition, but here’s where it even gets tougher. You’re going to have to learn to endure persecution. I didn’t say enjoy persecution. I didn’t say embrace persecution. But you do have to learn how to endure it, because it comes with this broken, wicked world that we live in. It’s just part of the package.
So how do I handle it when life knocks me down? Well you can do exactly what Paul did. If you’re reading through the book of Acts, if you’re reading chapter 14, if you read too quickly, you’re going to miss, in my opinion, one of the most significant verses an Acts, perhaps one of the most significant sentences in the New Testament, because I want you to see the first sentence from Acts 14, verse 20. Notice what Paul does. He’s already been beaten to the point of death, and if they thought he was still alive, they would have beat him more.
They drag him out of the city. They leave him for dead outside of the city and look at what this man does in the very next verse. Verse 20, first sentence:
After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town.
Now you and I, if you’re reading the Bible for the first time in your life, you should say, “Wait a second. Did I just read that right? Did the Bible just say that the very people in the very town that tried to kill him, he just got up and got back on his feet and walked right back into that same city? Paul, what are you thinking?” I want you to picture this if you can. Just picture this with me in your mind for just a second.
Some Bible scholars believe that what you’re seeing here in the Bible is a miracle. -that Paul really was dead, and then God brought him back to life again. I don’t think that’s what the Bible’s teaching. I think what the Bible is saying to us is that Paul was almost at the point of death. And I want you to hear me clearly. Paul’s not Superman, so when those rocks hit him, he bruised and bled, and it hurt really bad. He probably had some broken bones. This hurts bad, and Paul gets up, and I’m convinced the disciples are gathered around him, and they’re looking ahead to him and they’re convinced that he’s dead. They’re probably planning his funeral arrangements right now when they see him start to move.
And then all of a sudden, they’re probably rejoicing. They’re praising God. They’re thinking to themselves, “I can’t believe it. He’s still alive! Well let’s do whatever we’ve got to do to protect this guy from the mob that’s ready to kill him.” Can you imagine the shock? Can you imagine what they were thinking when Paul finally gets back to his feet and turns around and walks right back into the same city that just tried to kill him?
And I think I want to ask you the question right now: Would you do that? I mean, would you do what this guy is doing? -because human nature says, if I go back in there, they’re going to finish the job this time. And I’m certain that’s what he was convinced was going to happen. Paul got up, and he walked right back into that city, and he went right back into the jaws of the lion, right back into the fiery furnace, right back into the same hands of the same men who were trying to kill him.
You see, the question now is, not what did Paul do? The real challenge for us is, how did he pull this one off? How was this man able to do what we’re reading in the Bible right here? And here’s what I want you to understand: Life is going to knock you down. Here’s a guarantee. I’m going to make a promise to you. I don’t even need to know you; I don’t need to know your story. I know this is true of you, because this is going to happen to everybody. Life will knock you down. You should probably write this down and commit it to memory because it’s going to happen to you in the future if you’re not going through it now. Life is going to knock you down.
III. Keep moving forward
The challenge becomes, how do I get back up, and how do I keep going? And the answer to that question is there in front of you. You need external help. You need faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit of the living God, who gives you the strength to get back up and to dust yourself off and to keep going forward, because it’s not going to happen to you once; it’s going to happen over and over and over again. Sometimes it’s because of your own fault. Sometimes you didn’t even do anything wrong, and life knocks you down, and you need to figure out, how do I get back up, and how do I keep going forward again?
There was a motivational speaker many years ago, a guy by the name of Zig Ziglar. He made this statement. Zig Ziglar said, “Getting knocked down is a given. Life is going to knock you down. Getting up and moving forward, that’s a choice, and it’s a choice you’re going to have to make.” Life is going to knock you down. That’s a given. It’s getting back up and moving forward, it’s this choice that takes strength. And I am saying that the strength comes from outside of you. It comes from the Holy Spirit. It comes through faith in Jesus.
Life is just going to knock you down. You’re going to get opposed. You are going to be persecuted. Those 2 things are a given, so I’m saying, don’t sit around and pout about what somebody says about you on social media. It’s going to happen to you. Don’t sit around and complain about what some professor says to your face or to the classroom in the university. That’s probably going to happen anyway. The real challenge is this: How do I keep moving forward? -because the greatest tragedy would be when you get knocked down, to stay down; when you get knocked down, to let that get you off-course.
Whatever happens in Paul’s life, whatever happened in his heart, he did not let this event get him off-track because listen to what the Bible describes for us next at the end of Acts 14, verse 20. The Bible says this:
The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
The next day, Paul got up, and he left with Barnabas, and they went from the town of Lystra and they went on the road to a city called Derbe. Now, I want to give you a little bit of geography for just a second. Paul has been given the mission to bring the good news that Jesus saves sinners to people who have never heard it before. Paul’s goal is to take it to the farthest ends of the earth. He’s preached with great power, and God has given him this great influence in the city of Lystra.
Then opposition shows up, and he doesn’t let that opposition or that persecution hold him back. He goes back into town, but eventually it’s clear that circumstances have changed. The opportunities are not the same today as they were before these Jews showed up. So, Paul gets on the road, and he takes it to a town called Derbe, and Derbe at this point is a border city on the edge of the Roman Empire. In other words, Paul continues on his mission and keeps taking the Gospel to people who need to hear it, even if it means taking it to the farthest reaches of the Earth. He won’t let this or anything else throw him off-track. He won’t let anything stop him from sharing the glorious news that Jesus came, died to save sinners, and is alive today so that you and I can have the promise that we will live one day.
I’m convinced one of the reasons why Paul can do this is because he takes seriously what Jesus said in the book of Matthew. I’m convinced Paul understood, maybe Matthew told him to his face, “Let me tell you what Jesus told me, Paul. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are you when they persecute you.’” And I believe Paul took that seriously. Jesus said in the book of Matthew, “Rejoice and be glad when they persecute you.” He said, “You will be hated by all nations because of my name.” Paul took this stuff seriously, and because he took it seriously, Paul didn’t let opposition, didn’t let persecution stop him. Paul kept getting up and kept moving forward.
Have you ever been snow skiing? Have you ever been snowboarding? If you’ve been snow skiing or if you’ve ever been snowboarding, you learned something when you were snow skiing. The first time that you’re on skis, and you’re sliding down that bunny slope, the first thing that they teach you is how to fall down, because you’re going to fall down. Everybody falls down. But if you will keep at it, if you will keep working at it, eventually you can move off of the bunny hill. Eventually you can start to get a little bit better at snow skiing and snowboarding. But here’s the truth: You really still are learning how to snow ski, learning how to snowboard until you make the conscious decision to stop worrying about falling down. That’s the moment when you start to become a snowboarder, start to become a snow skier. You’re no longer learning how to snowboard.
You see, the whole irony here is, the more that you focus on falling down, the less fun it is to get down the hill. The more that you focus on not falling down, the more you’re thinking about, how do I stay on my skis? But when you stop worrying about falling down (You know it’s going to happen; you just learned how to fall down), when you stopped worrying about that, snowboarding or snow skiing became a whole lot more fun after that incident, and the truth is, the other irony about this is, chances are, the less that you stop worrying about falling down, the better that you become about getting down that hill while you’re snowboarding or while you’re snow skiing.
I still fall down, and when I fall down, it’s pretty awesome. -like ski over here, pole over there, little kids getting up to me saying, “Are you okay?” -because there’s a big puff of white powder. I don’t know if I’m all right, but at least I’m having fun going down the hill.
So, I’m going to say it to us again. Life is going to knock you down. This is a guarantee. So now the question is, how do you get back up, and how do you keep going? And here’s my challenge to you today one more time: For some of you, life’s going to knock you down 20 times. For some of you, life is going to knock you down 200 times. For some of you, it’s going to be your own fault, and you made some serious mistakes, and you’re going to have to figure out, how do you get up and dust yourself off and keep going forward? For others, you’re just flying high; you’re riding high in the saddle, and then all of a sudden somebody comes by and clips your wings, and life just threw you a curve ball. When that happens, the challenge becomes, how do I get back up? How do I keep going even after I’ve been knocked down?
If you just watch the news, it’s pretty obvious, money and fame and power, that can’t do it for you. -because if so, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain would still be with us today. You’re going to need help from something outside of you, something bigger than you that helps you get up and keep going even after life has knocked you down.
• I have knocked myself down by my own sin. Today, I asked Jesus to forgive me and change me for the first time.
– Life has knocked me down lately. Pray for me to trust Jesus for the strength to get back up again.
+ I will not let anything stand between me and serving Jesus this week.
- What is the difference between getting knocked down and tripping over your own feet?
- Agree or disagree: We live in a world where everyone will get knocked down regularly. If you agree, why does our world function this way?
- Have you ever been ridiculed because of your faith? How did you respond?
a. Read Matthew 5:11. Do we in the U.S. have any right to not expect ridicule?
b. How do you rejoice when being insulted or assaulted for your faith?
- Which is worse: when you get knocked down and you don’t get back up, or letting getting knocked down get you off track? Explain your answer.
- Read Mark 4:17. Is someone who falls away because of persecution genuinely a Christian? Explain your answer.
- Pray for Jesus to help you overcome the challenges of this week.