Dealing with Resistance
Mike Fitzpatrick | Acts 14:14-20
I began college at Lorain County Community College. I went to this college for one excellent and well-thought-through reason: it was across the street from where I lived. Now, plenty of my friends had decided to go to a Christian college, which I could have done, but I wanted to see if this life I said I lived, this faith that I said I had, was real. Faith was easy to live out in high school because I went to a Christian school, and went to church three times a week. But when I faced the world outside my safe bubble, when I dealt with resistance, would I still be able to live out this faith I owned, or would it prove to be just a phase I’d gone through?
It didn’t take long for me to experience the struggles that I wondered about as I began on college journey. I quickly got involved in the television broadcasting department, immersed with other students in the same program from the get-go. We had in-depth projects we had to work on together, as well as a weekly news program about the college that we produced every week.
(I wish I had video available of those shows so you could see how awesome I was and how glorious my mullet was, but alas).
Now, of these fellow students, let’s just say that none of them saw the world or God or morality in the same way I did. Seemingly none of them came from the same upbringing that I did. None of them had a faith component that seemed to impact their lives. It wasn’t that I was better than them. Far from it. It was just that I had experienced something that had fundamentally changed who I was, that gave me hope and a purpose.
By and large, it was not a horrible existence. We worked hard together, we played hard together, had plenty of laughs and created many memories. But it’s also true that I dealt with a decent amount of resistance based on what I believed and how I lived my life. The fact that I didn’t drink, the fact that I didn’t do drugs, the fact that I didn’t come to school detailing my latest escapades with my girlfriend (which, I didn’t have, by the way), all of those things become fodder for ridicule and resistance.
It was a struggle for me to live what I believed – a desire to live free from those encumbrances – while facing opposition from those who believed differently.
I don’t think any of them were being hostile, but it still was not an easy road to travel.
When I transferred to Bowling Green State University, my second of three colleges, it didn’t get any easier. There was a guy who lived two doors down who clearly saw the world completely differently than I did, and as a result, was very hostile towards me. When he would be in our living room, drinking and carrying on, and I was in bed, trying to sleep, I would hear him literally threatening me, that he was going to beat the crap out of me. And he would say some of these things to my face, too, not just behind my back. It wassuper stressful.
THE RESISTANCE WAS REAL.
Have you ever faced resistance because of something you stood for, something you believed in?
Just as set as you are in what you believe, in how you see the world, there are close to 8 billion people in the world, none of whom see everything exactly like you do. No one else has your family of origin, your close community, your experiences, your latitude and longitude.
Paul and Barnabas faced this reality in the New Testament book of Acts.
Just before the passage we are about to read, Paul and Barnabas have arrived in a town called Lystra. When they arrive, they encounter a man who had never been able to walk, being disabled in both legs. This man had been hearing Paul teach about Jesus, and Paul looks at him and thinks, “Hmmm, he looks like he believes he can be healed.”
Paul calls to him and tells him to stand up – AND HE DOES!
You know, we read so many of these stories in the Bible and we think, sure, God healed him or her. That’s cool. But think about it. This dude had NEVER WALKED! Like, EVER! And Paul says something to him, and up he jumps!
Think of how mind-blowing and life-altering that must have been for everyone: For the people watching, for the man, for the man’s family…This would have been an event that Twitter was made for! It flipped the Status Quo on its ear.
THE CALL OF JESUS
You see, Paul and Barnabas, they heard a call. They’d experienced a call to go the world – Lystra included – and share the good news of the one who’d called them. When they started following Jesus, they experienced an amazing grace kind of transformation that changed everything.
You have that same call on your life.
There’s the initial call that Jesus gave to the disciples, and that he continues to give people today: Follow me.
Some of you have been trying to direct your own lives, and in many ways, you have seen that that just doesn’t work so well. You lean into money or relationships or job fulfillment for our meaning and purpose and you walk away feeling unsatisfied.
Jesus says, “I offer more for you. I offer peace and wisdom and contentment and strength. I don’t offer an easy life, but I offer you what you need. And above that, I offer you love. Unmatched, unconditional love. A love that reconciles us to the God who’s loved you all along.”
Jesus is calling all of us to follow him as we navigate this thing called ‘life.’
But there’s a second part to the call. The call is to receive – and to share the beauty of what Jesus offers with others.
Not everyone has had the same experience with Jesus. Not everyone has heard about the love that he offers.
At the end of Matthew 28, some of Jesus’ last words instruct us to go and make disciples. That can have some unfortunate connotations with it. People can turn that into a directive to go and make converts. But it’s so much more that than. It’s not just getting people to assent to some theological doctrine or pray a prayer of shame and forgiveness. It’s an invitation into a new life. The Gospel (which simply means Good News) goes way beyond gaining entrance to heaven.
“…report to John what you have seen and heard. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled now walk. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. And good news is preached to the poor.” (Luke 7:21-23)
The Good News is freedom.
Freedom from whatever holds you back.
Freedom from whatever causes you pain and anxiety.
Freedom from whatever causes others to look at you and say, “Not good enough.”
Freedom from the limits of this world.
That’s what Paul and Barnabas offered to that man that day–Freedom from the limitations he had experienced the entirety of his life.
Everything plays out pretty much exactly how you would expect they would.
“Dude, you just healed this guy! How did you do that? Wherever you got that power, we want whatever you have!” And they followed Jesus and lived happily ever after. The end.
Not exactly. You see, they’d challenged the Status Quo.
At first, they experienced the resistance of confusion.
“Seeing what Paul had done, the crowd shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have taken human form and come down to visit us!” They referred to Barnabas as Zeus and to Paul as Hermes, since Paul was the main speaker.” (Acts 14:11-12)
The Lycaonians drew from their working knowledge, which was the worship of these Greek gods, Zeus and Hermes. The ancients believed that the gods needed to be appeased, and if they were, good things would happen to you. If they were not, bad things would happen to you. So clearly, for some reason, the gods were appeased. Otherwise, why would this man have been granted the ability to walk? The only explanation in their minds was that these two men were actually gods who had granted healing because the person had done something to be on their good sides.
When you share the Good News, the Gospel with someone, there will not always be understanding, complete or even in part. It’s an imperfect human interaction and there will be misunderstandings because humans just don’t know everything.
But it’s not just the resistance of confusion that Paul and Barnabas have to deal with the most. They also have to contend with the resistance of opposition.
After Paul and Barnabas attempted to clarify that they were not, in fact, Greek gods, that’s when the religious leaders get involved.
It’s interesting that, almost universally in the Bible, when the religious leaders stick their noses into something, things get really messy really quickly.
“Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and won the crowds over. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead.” (Acts 14:19)
So basically, super rational and thoughtful dudes.
“We don’t like what these guys stand for, so should we talk to them about it? Maybe we should craft a strongly worded letter? Nah, let’s just stone them and leave them for dead.” (Acs 14:19, Old Fitz translation)
This goes beyond simply not understanding. This is glaring and violent opposition. This is more than I disagree with you. This is me not liking what you are saying so much that I will do whatever is in my power to take you down, to discredit you, and in this case, to kill you.
You don’t have to think long and hard to name an instance of someone being violently resisted against simply because of something they believed in or stood for.
It could be political stances, or religious differences, or even something as simple as how we see other humans.
You can lose friends. You may lose a job. You can lose comfort. And it won’t only come from ‘outside’ the walls of the church. Some of the greatest resistance you may face come from those ‘inside’ the church.
So, what do we do, in light of the fact that we could face significant opposition when we share the truth of who Jesus is and the world that Jesus wants to create through us?
Paul was left for dead, and yet, they kept sharing.
“When the disciples surrounded Paul, he got up and entered the city again. The following day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.” (Acts 14:20)
I don’t know about you, but if the town had gathered to throw literal stones at me, I’d be at least slightly hesitant to return to that town, and I would likely rethink everything I was doing. Like, let me go find a regular job where I can keep my head down and avoid conflict. But that’s not what Paul and Barnabas did. They marched back into to the town, and then continued their journey to follow the call of Jesus. Why?
THE BEAUTY OF THE MESSAGE
Have you ever been to a really great restaurant? When you experienced it, what did you do? You became a restaurant evangelist. You told everyone you knew about it. You wanted to make sure that others had the same opportunity to experience the wonderful cuisine you found.
The gift Paul and Barnabas received was far greater than any restaurant that you could go to. They had received the gift of a life changed. They experienced a grace and a gift that was too valuable for one or two people to keep to themselves, even if it meant facing opposition as a result.
When we share the beauty of that life, you just never know what will happen.
Back to my college days, there was this one friend named Suzi. We couldn’t have been more different in our worldviews if we had tried, but we still hit it off. She didn’t have much of a faith background at all – actually, way far away from that – so it was tempting to not cross that particular conversational bridge, because I just didn’t know how it would turn out. But the gift I had received was too great to keep to myself.
We would talk for hours about Jesus and God and the Bible and life. She asked questions, and I answered them as best as I could.
After that first year of college, she transferred to Ohio University and we lost touch.
Two-and-a-half years later, I was living in Perrysburg after having spent a year at Bowling Green, and I came home to find a Christmas card with a Florida return address. I didn’t know anyone who lived in Florida, so I opened it up and it was from Suzi. Her family had moved there. I had to talk to her, so I called information and got her number and gave her a call. And as we talked, she would say things like, “God did this in my life…” and “God did that…” I was shocked because these are things that she never would have said in the past.
I finally said to her, “You are not the same Suzi I went to college with.” And she said, “You’re right. God totally changed my life, and I have you to thank for it, because you would talk to me about that stuff when no one else would.”
I was floored.
Friends, you just never know what will happen.
That seed you plant may turn into nothing. You may get stoned for it, figuratively or literally. But who knows? It might just result in someone experiencing the grace and love of God in their own lives.
“On their arrival, they gathered the church together and reported everything that God had accomplished through their activity, and how God had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27)
Friends, we have been given such a beautiful and needed gift. We have experienced Jesus who loves us far more than we deserve, who has blessed us and provided for us, who has given us healing and peace.
Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)
Do not hoard this gift for yourself. People need to receive what you have received. People need to experience that love. People need blessings and provision. People need healing and peace.
Will the gift we share always be received with open arms? No, but it’s a risk we have to take, and one that’s well worth taking, because you just never know.
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Family Ministry Pastor | Ginghamsburg Church
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