Preaching in Iconium
Acts 14:1-5; 11/5/2023; BCBC/IOUC; Rev. Paul Wang
Why should we talk about Iconium specifically? I looked at the map of Paul’s first missionary journey and found that Iconium was the place where Paul and his party stopped twice. Of course, it refers to the part that includes the stay at Lystra. The Bible must have a special intention when it is recorded in this way. This intention is the priority of the gospel, Jews first, then Gentiles. Let’s look at the first point:
Iconium is a large city in Konya, Turkey today, located about 30 kilometers north of Lystra and 122 kilometers southeast of Antioch. It was the capital of the Lycaonian province at that time. It can be seen from this that the Jews used synagogues, opened up new sites and planted churches, and spread the gospel widely, with remarkable results. First, the gestation of the two cultures. The two cultures refer to the Hebrew and Greek cultures, which are the soil of truth prepared by God for His New Testament era. There are also records of floods in Greek mythology. There are even stories of Pumis and Athena making people out of clay and blowing air into these clay figures, so that they came to life. What’s even more amazing is that the Greek word for “image” is eikon, which is actually the etymology of the word Iconium. This allows us to see that about 165 years before Jesus Christ became flesh and came into the world. God had already prepared the cultural soil of the New Testament. Not only that, God also protected the synagogue for hundreds of years, until Paul and his party came here, entered the synagogue to preach the gospel and manifest God’s gospel order.
Secondly, the proof of the fullness of time. The fulfillment of time has two aspects. First, God the Father personally prepared all kinds of time conditions for the Son, just waiting for Mary to give birth to the Lord Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. The second is to prepare the time for the church to spread the gospel widely. When Paul and his party arrived in the province of Galatia, they were able to enter the synagogue to share the message of the gospel. Not only that, the Bible records: “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. (Acts 14:1)” This is a mode of thinking with a view of revelation, which is especially important for our view of mission. That is to say, the fact that we are able to preach the gospel today and that some people believe in the gospel are all prepared by the Lord Himself, and there is nothing to boast about.
Finally, there are the historical limitations of the synagogue. When the synagogue reaches the point of rejecting the gospel, then the synagogue’s historical mission has come to an end. Of course, this is also a gradual process. Today’s scripture also allows us to see “But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. (Acts 14:2)” The results of a person’s life come from the heart. When the Jewish synagogue failed to obey the Lord’s instructions, deceit, hatred, and strife would appear. The same principle applies to people of an era doing things of an era. This is the same principle as the church today. The Lord of the church and the body of Christ as a complete church of the universal church will not change. However, when looking at a specific church, the historical limitations of a certain church are also viewed based on its relationship with the mission. Let’s look at the second point:
The Jews’ anger
Before a person commits a crime, the most common thing is his emotions. The wrath of the Jews became a spectacle for God and angels to watch. First, it starts with disobedience. From King Saul’s experience, we can know that God would rather we obey Him than have our sacrifices. Ever since Abraham, God’s chosen people have been unwilling to obey God. Jacob had to wait until God pinched his thighs before he would humble himself and obey God. In order to deal with the stubbornness of the Israelites, God even sent them to Egypt to let Pharaoh temper their temperament. After 430 years of hardship, as soon as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they complained because they had no water to drink. Ok, then give it another forty years in the wilderness. After entering Canaan and taking possession of the land, they rejected God and asked for their own king. The general trend of the northern and southern kingdoms is to be rebellious and disobedient to God. Now that the gospel has come to them, they still choose not to obey.
Secondly, it stirred up disputes. This is the worst behavior of the Jews, which is to allow Gentiles to harm their brothers. Both Paul and Barnabas were Jews. Moreover, Paul came from the school of Gamaliel and was once a scholar among the Pharisees. Even if there are different opinions, they should be communicated and discussed internally. Instead of using the help of outsiders to hurt your brothers, right? This is why Paul taught in 1 and 2 Corinthians that any disputes in the church should be resolved internally rather than letting Gentiles judge God’s people. When a person’s heart cannot be quiet, there will be people who will stand up for him. Therefore, there will definitely be people around such people who show their loyalty to them. He will also hear someone say to him, we support you, and so on.
Finally, emotions fuel anger. When Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, he wanted to let him go secretly. A robber and a sinless carpenter, the crowd should choose to let Jesus go! However, the high priest refused to give up! It also stirred up emotions and aroused everyone’s anger and shouted: “Crucify him!” When Paul and his party came to the Iconium synagogue in Asia to preach the gospel, this gene of hatred was still fermenting here. It was as if one could hear the roar of “Crucify them!” echoing throughout the city of Iconium. This kind of anger has come and gone throughout the history of more than two thousand years, resounding all over the world, and has never stopped. A student cannot be higher than a teacher. The suffering that the Lord endured must also be experienced by those who follow Him. Let’s look at the third point:
Insult by the Jews
When a person tortures or insults another person, he is accumulating God’s wrath. First, there are signs and wonders to be seen. God knows that the Jews love to seek miracles. Without miracles, it is difficult to believe in God. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, there were many miracles along the way. But as soon as Moses went up the mountain, the people rebelled. Paul and his company in Iconium “spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. (Acts 14:3)” That is to say, the Jews who were familiar with the Bible understood Paul and his team and knew that they were from Jehovah. The Bible does not say what kind of miracles they performed, but they did perform miracles. And the purpose of miracles is to prove that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior, and the Lord of our lives. In fact, the Bible says that signs and wonders will accompany everyone who believes in Him.
Secondly, there is the matter of forming cliques for personal gain. It is a pity that the Jews were disobedient and were completely indifferent to God’s words, signs and wonders. People are so strange. Once they are indifferent to the things of God, they are bound to be interested in evil things. The Bible says: “The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. (Acts 14:4)” In the past two thousand years of church history, there have been endless occurrences of cliques and selfish interests. Today is no exception. There are still some who follow the Jews and some who follow the apostles. Some want to follow Paul, some want to follow Apollos, some want to follow Barnabas, etc. The same is true for Chinese churches in North America. There are few that are not divided. The church forms cliques and eventually pulls a group of people out, pretending to be building one more church. In fact, what is built with the gene of division may not be a church.
Finally, there was the punishment of mistreating and stoning. It is very strange that when people get together to do evil, they will surprisingly act in unison. Better to preach the gospel, bear witness, do justice, and love mercy! The Bible says: “There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. (Acts 14:5)” This is the sinful nature we inherited from Adam and Eve, and because of this sinful nature, we will inevitably produce sin. The key is that we are all familiar with sin, and committing sin is easy and familiar. Pastor Wang Yi and Pastor Cao Sanqiang were sentenced without difficulty at all. However, once we ask people to teach, obey, live out the truth, and love one another, how difficult it is! It is difficult to build a church, but easy to destroy a church! It’s so easy to make people confess on TV and torture them in prison! This is the concentrated expression of sin!
Well, thank the Lord! Preaching in Iconium still implemented the priority of the gospel, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles! Even if they have to suffer for it and sacrifice their life for it, they would not hesitate! I was moved by this, God’s great and deep, enduring love!
Let us pray……
1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.
2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.
4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.
5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them.