Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Knocked Down? GET BACK UP!

So let's say you're on a mission trip.  You preach the gospel in a city and God is blessing. Disciples are being made.  Suddenly the crowd turns on you, rejects your message and decides that you are bad news for their city.  They pick up large rocks and begin to pelt you with them one by one.  Imagine!  One hits your back and steals your breath; immediately you feel another slam into your shoulder.  Then another, and another and another!  A large stone connects with your face; all goes black and you fall to the ground.  This is what happened to Paul the Apostle at the city of Lystra on his first mission trip.

Paul was stoned by an angry mob.  Think about that for a moment.  And so great was the beating that the crowd thought they had killed him!  They dragged him out of the city (Acts 14:19).  Paul lay in his blood.  Think of the wounds this must have produced on his body!  The throbbing pain!  In a few months he would write a letter to the believers in this very region, reminding them of these wounds:  "From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17, ESV).  He would later remember this stoning as he wrote to the Corinthian believers of all his sufferings for Christ ("...once I was stoned..." 2 Cor. 11:25).

So what do you do after you get stoned, almost to death, by an angry mob on your mission trip?  What is the appropriate response?  Mission trip is over...right?  I mean, everyone would certainly understand if you quit after such an experience.  You have nothing else to prove.  What did Paul do?
But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 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.  Acts 14:20-22, ESV
The man who was almost killed by large rocks - GOT BACK UP!  Then he walked right back into the city that had just rejected him and his gospel.  He spent the night there, and then got up and began a 60-mile trip to the next city (Derbe)!!  Why?  To keep preaching the gospel!  The mission trip was not over till the Holy Spirit, who sent them from their home church (Acts 13:3), said it was over. There were still people God wanted to save.  The city of Derbe needed a church.  What courage!  What determination!  What personal sacrifice for Jesus and his (dangerous, yet glorious) mission!

But it gets even more amazing!  Now Paul and his team decide to backtrack through all the cities they've been on this mission trip - even though it would have been closer to return to their home church from Derbe. They choose to go the long way, and step back into the fire.  For in those cities are hostile crowds (the same ones who stirred up the Lystran mob to stone Paul)!  Paul is going back into the hornets' nest.  Why?  What is so important that it is worth risking his life?  Follow-up.

Jesus has not sent us just to get 'decisions,' or make believers, but to make disciples and to join him in building his church.  He didn't die for decisions but for the church (Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25)!  Paul knew that the churches he had planted in these cities needed follow-up:  they needed to be strengthened and encouraged, and they needed help (in the form of local elders - pastoral teams that he set up in each city, Acts 14:23).

So Paul and his team 'encouraged' the churches by telling them that 'through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God' (14:22).  What encouragement!  Almost sounds like he's trying to talk them out of it.  We don't hear a lot of this kind of 'encouragement' today, but we must remember that our Lord was humiliated and publicly executed on a cross; and he said, 'Come follow me.'  Paul's wounds were still fresh as he urged these believers to continue in the faith, no matter what the cost.  Our call is not to comfort and prosperity, but to sacrifice our lives for the mission.  It's dangerous to follow Jesus.  But it's worth it.  It's difficult.  But there is grace!  Jesus endured the cross for us, and by his grace we can get back up when we are knocked down.  Our getting back up is not a testimony to our own strength, but to the amazing grace of God in Christ!  The power that was available to Paul after his beating is available to us!  By grace, GET BACK UP!

I don't know where you are in the gospel journey.  Maybe you've sacrificed nothing; perhaps you are living for your own mission rather than Christ's.  Repent!  Give it all while you still can!

Or maybe you've suffered greatly for the cause of Christ.  Perhaps you have been knocked down by trials and opposition.  "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small" (Proverbs 24:10).  God calls us to be strong and courageous in his grace-mission of the gospel.  Don't give up!  "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).  Look to Jesus Christ and, by his grace, get back up!  Receive his fresh grace and let's finish strong for his glory!

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