Here’s the link to Acts 14.
They continued preaching the gospel.
These are the words which stand out to me from this passage. They describe the first missionary journey of the apostle Paul and Barnabas (a name which means “son of encouragement”).
Here’s a map of this missionary journey. I find it helps when reading the text. Notice that there are two places called Antioch. The place names that are in all caps are provinces; the other place names are cities.
What we read in Acts 14 follows from the previous chapter. There (in Acts 13) we read this: As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.
So taking a trip to all of these places to preach about Jesus wasn’t, strictly speaking, their idea or plan. This was a result of the leading of the Spirit. Notice how they fasted and prayed even after the Spirit gave direction. Perhaps to confirm the Spirit’s leading or simply to prepare for what was ahead? Probably both.
Notice what happens as they go from town to town talking about Jesus. There were signs and wonders. Great numbers of Jews and Gentiles came to believe in the good news. They organized and encouraged the churches they planted. The kingdom of God was moving!
However, Paul and Barnabas also faced hostility and misunderstanding. Unbelieving troublemakers try to stir up opposition. Paul even gets stoned by enemies–some thought he was dead! And yet they kept on going, continuing with the calling they received from the Holy Spirit.
So when Paul and Barnabas said it is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, they knew what they were talking about. Because whatever happened to them, they continued preaching the gospel.
Only by the power of the Holy Spirit is this possible. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit could anyone be so compelled to share the good news that they are willing to risk life and limb to do so.
When those living in Lystra began to treat Paul and Barnabas as gods because they healed a man in the name of Jesus, Paul was beside himself. To keep the crowds from offering sacrifices to he and Barnabas, he shouts, We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God.
It is this living God that drove Paul and Barnabas. Not a god who did things; no, the God who is doing things. Not a dead god of human invention but the living God who, as Paul said, made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them.
It all makes me wonder. What am I willing to risk in order to share my faith in Jesus? It’s so easy for me to let myself off the hook, to make up excuses, to distance myself from the biblical text and consign it to the past.
How is the Holy Spirit leading me? What form does the calling of God take in our lives now? Do we just believe in our heads and go on living the way we are? Do I so relish my relative comfort that I am willing to sacrifice obeying Jesus for it?
To put it another way, would I have kept preaching the good news in the face of such opposition?
Surely not by own strength but only by the Spirit. And no doubt with no small amount of prayer and fasting.