A Personal Call to Commitment
A PERSONAL CALL TO COMMITMENT ACTS 14:8-28
One night in 1945 Captain Terry Simeral brought his crippled B-29 in for a safe landing amidst waiting fire engines and red flares, unloaded the plane, and entered the group headquarters tent. His face was white. He seemed to be in a state of shock, and it was several minutes before he could talk. And incredible feat had been accomplished as Captain Simeral piloted his Pathfinder plane toward the enemy coast in order to drop phosphorus smoke to mark the mission’s target.
On B-29s it was the radio’s operator job to release the bomb through a narrow tube. On this particular night Sgt. Henry Erwin received the routine order, triggered the flare and dropped it down the tube. But there was a malfunction, and the bomb exploded and bounced back into Erwin’s face, blinding both eyes and searing off an ear. Burning phosphorus melts metal like butter, and the bomb was now at Sgt. Erwin’s feet and eating rapidly through the deck of the plane toward a full load of incendiaries. He was alone because the navigator had gone to the transparent dome atop the plane to make some celestial computations.
Not having the luxury of time to analyze his situation, Erwin picked up the white-hot bomb in his bare hands and stumbled forward toward the cockpit, groping along with elbows and feet. The navigator’s folding table was down and latched, blocking the way. Sgt. Erwin hugged the blazing bomb under his arm as it burned the flesh over his ribs, unfastened the latch, and lifted the table. He stumbled on, a walking torch. His clothing and hair were ablaze. Dense smoke filled the plane, and Simeral had opened the window beside him to clear the air.
“I could not see Erwin,” says Simeral, “but I heard his voice right at my elbow. He said, ‘Pardon me, sir,’ and reached across the window and tossed the bomb out. Then he collapsed on the flight deck.” Amazingly, Sgt. Erwin survived and went on to regain the use of his hands and partial vision in one eye. Sgt. Henry Erwin is one of our country’s Congressional Medal of Honor winners, receiving it from General Curtis LeMay while still in a Pacific hospital.
The story of Sgt. Henry Erwin and the blazing bomb is one of the most amazing accounts of valor I have ever read. It is a tribute to the human spirit. Yet there is a bravery that exceeds even that. It is not as dramatic, not as conspicuous, and not as likely to be remembered. It is the bravery that is called forth by consistent devotion to a course or ideal. It might be a young mother taking care of a handicapped child or a man standing up against a social evil or a student willing to go against the popularity of the student body in order to do what is right.
Well, our passage this morning gives an example of two apostles who were consistently courageous in their loyalty toward Christ. They were opposed by religious and secular people alike because they spoke the truth of God’s Word. They were sold out for the cause of Christ, even though it got them thrown out of town in one city and almost caused them public humiliation in another. And yet again, in our passage they are in trouble again for preaching Christ and Paul ended up being stone for it.
This morning, as we examine this story, I want to provide you with four features about the commitment of these two men. First, they healed in the power of God.
THEY HEALED IN THE POWER OF GOD – 8-13
Paul and Barnabas travel from Iconium because of the threat on their lives to the town of Lystra. This is the first time on their missionary journey that they do not go to a synagogue. One of the reasons this could be so was because the Jewish population was so small in this town so as not to have one. We don’t know.
While there they encountered a cripple man from birth. Luke said he could not use his feet. In other words, he was impotent or weak. This word can describe the faith of some believers. But many times in Scripture it is translated as impossible – a word that describes our helpless condition in attaining salvation on our own. Salvation is only made possible by God. In this case, this man was destined to remain cripple the rest of his life, if God did not intervene and perform a miracle in his life. So Paul recognizing that this man had faith to be made well (whole or saved) commanded him to stand upright on his feet.
The man sprang up (a single act) and continually began to walk around. Well the crowd responded to the miracle, just like any crowd would respond today to a miracle. Some may respond with skepticism or disbelieve. Others may respond with a brief period of enthusiasm. But this crowd responded by giving Paul and Barnabas the credit for healing the man.
In verse 11-12, the crowd spoke in their native language which Paul and Barnabas did not understand as we will see and they said the gods have come down to visit us. There is an ancient story about these same two gods visiting a town in the area. They were not recognized and received only a cool reception. In anger they destroyed the town that had been so inhospitable. With such a folk-tale circulating in this region, it is hardly any wonder that the crowd reacted in the way that they did, bringing forth a bull and wreathes and wanting to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas after a simple healing.
ZEUS Chief god of the Greek pantheon (Roman Jupiter). Zeus was initially worshiped as part of an animistic cult, as the sky god with thunder as his principal manifestation. Well before the time of Homer, however, Zeus had become the preeminent personal god of the Greek residents of Thessaly, with Mt Olympus serving as the focal point of the cult. By NT times, Zeus was considered the Greek father god who possessed supreme powers. It was not unusual that this misidentification should take place, since the Greek gods were frequently represented as taking on human appearances and intervening directly in human affairs. HERMES - Greek god and the son of Zeus by Maia. He was identified with Mercury in the Roman pantheon of deities. In Greek mythology, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and the escort of the dead to Hades. He was the god of fertility, the patron of music, the guardian of travelers, and the god of eloquent speech.
Folks, I remind you that you and I can offer healing today. It may not be physical healing, but it is certainly spiritual healing. And we are to offer it in the power of God. You and I will never win a person to Christ by sure eloquence of our words. Yet if we deliver the truth of God in his power, then we can certainly expect a response. It may not always be the response we expected but we will definitely get a response. Some will be misguided in their judgment, other will disbelieve, but still others will respond appropriately. Our job is to offer the things of God in the power of God. So they healed in the power of God. Next,
THEY STATED THE GOODNESS OF GOD – 14-18
When Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening, they were deeply troubled and tried to redirect their attention to the real source of the healing. The culture that Paul and Barnabas spoke in had many false ideas about true religion. In fact, their praise of the apostles kept Paul from giving them the whole truth. Isn’t it interesting that people want to hear the news about God but only on their terms? To these Greeks, this was a new God to them among the many that they already possess.
Today, Christ is often made such a captive of men’s presuppositions (what they think he ought to be and what they want him to be) that they do not really understand Him. Lloyd Ogilvie put it this way: “When Jesus was born there was no room at the inn. But today we not only have room at our inn, but a penthouse suite away from reality. Jesus is a V.I.P. to be honored but not believed or followed. In America, he is a custom but not the true Christ; a captured hero of a casual civil religion, but not Lord of our lives.” This is idolatry, plain and simple.
There are too many in America today who sees their faith “more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment.” In 2008, 15% of Americans are unaffiliated with any religious group or denomination. Also, for the first time in history only 76% identify themselves as Christians. These statistics present a daunting task for the church to have a new sense of urgency in presenting the gospel.
So Paul proceeds to tell the people that the God worth worshiping is greater than any image we can come up with or any false notion that we have of Him. He is the creator of all things. Notice that Paul’s approach to evangelizing these people was different from the Jews. They had no knowledge of the one true God so Paul had to start with where they were in life. He starts at the very beginning of the Bible and the creation account. Today, I believe that the church needs to begin there with the gospel because people have no knowledge of God’s Word.
He reminded them, in verse 16, that God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways in previous generations. Now this does not mean that God was unconcerned or ignorant of what was taking place among the Gentile nations. No, that was not it at all. It was not until the time of the church, that God was giving direct revelation to the Gentiles, but they were still responsible for their reaction to the general revelation of God because he gave rains and fruitful seasons to them. What Paul was saying is that all are accountable to God and without excuse.
Paul was unable to finish his sermon due to the angry Jews who persuaded the people turn against Paul. Isn’t it interesting how fickle people are in life? Paul went from hero to zero in a matter of moments. This leads me to the third feature I see in these men’s commitment to Christ. They healed in the power of God; they stated the goodness of God. Now,
THEY SUBMIT TO THE WILL OF GOD – 19-23
Before Paul and Barnabas could finish giving the gospel to these Greeks, some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium to oppose them. They were effective in their persuasion because they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city supposing that he was dead. This is one of the many times that the Jews persecuted the church and her apostles. There are two exception in which the Jews didn’t lead the charge against the apostles, Philippi and Ephesus. Paul knew that he was to suffer much for God and therefore submitted himself to whatever situation he had found himself in.
But I want you to notice what Paul did next. He didn’t quit or find the quickest route back home. He continued to be loyal to the call that God laid on his heart. What supreme bravery! What a witness! This had more effect than a thousand sermons.
Dave Howard tells the story of a fearless pastor who ministered in Columbia named Luperico Taba. One Sunday Taba was preaching from his pulpit when a man appeared at a side window of the church, aimed a pistol at him, and ordered him to stop preaching. The congregation, seeing the danger, dove to the floor and hid under the pews. Taba, however, went right on preaching the gospel. The man then fired four shots at him. Two shots went past the preacher’s head, one on one side, one on the other, and lodged in the wall behind him. Two shots went past his body, one under one are, one under the other, and also lodged in the wall. The would-be assassin then dropped his gun and fled. Taba, still unmoved, continued his sermon.
Paul could have headed home to Tarsus which was not many miles from there, but instead he went back to those towns which opposed him and did several things. He confirmed the disciples by teaching them more of God’s word, he exhorted them to remain steadfast because there will be countless tribulations that they would encounter along the way in order to enter the Kingdom of God, and he organized the church for further growth in the grace of God.
So they healed in the power of God, stated the goodness of God, submitted to the will of God, and finally
THEY SHARED WITH OTHERS THE GLORY OF GOD – 24-28
Finally, the apostles finished their missionary journey of about 18 months and headed for home. There they recount all that God had done in their midst while they were ministering in the name of Christ. In other words, these apostles were being accountable to the church that sent them. That is why we have mission reports when some of our own are sent to do short-term mission projects.
They spent about five years in Antioch before the Jerusalem Conference that is mentioned in the next chapter and before they embark on their second missionary journey.
So, in these closing verses, I see our task greatly highlighted, which is to evangelize. Our purpose is to evangelize, which simply means to give as many people as possible at least one opportunity to hear the Gospel. We know that not everyone will be saved, but we owe to everyone at least one chance to hear about Christ and the cross. Paul evangelized the Roman world without printing press, a radio station, television, airplanes, or any of the modern devices available to us. How much more we ought to be able to accomplish in this day of scientific wonders! “To whom much is given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48).
Dr. Bob Pierce used to say in Youth for Christ, “Others have done so much with so little, while we have done so little with so much!” The wasted wealth of American believers alone, if invested in world evangelization, might lead to the salvation of millions of lost people.
Let me close with this quote from Winston Churchill which expresses beautifully the apostle’s personal call to commitment. “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
The commitment of the apostles can be our commitments. We ought to at least operate in the power of God, speak about the goodness of God, be willing to submit to the will of God no matter the cost, and share with others the glory of God by praising His wonderful name.
So if you are here as a Christian and this has not been your personal commitment, then I strongly encourage you to make this your commitment to Christ. If you are here as a unbeliever, then I beg you to make a personal commitment to Christ by turning from your sins and putting your faith in Him.