Sermon title:

Biting the Hand that Heals Them

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, March 14, 2021

 

 

A recent poll indicated that roughly half of all Americans

say grace before their meals,

at least a few times each week.

 

Expressing thankfulness to God before eating

is one way of recognizing that he is the provider

of every good thing we have.  

 

Psalm 136:25 says,

"He gives food to every creature."

 

And 2 Corinthians 9:10 refers to God as the One

"who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food."

 

Not only our food, but everything we have and enjoy

comes from God.

James 1:17 says,

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father”

 

And Acts 17:25 says,

“he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”

 

But people are unappreciative of God's blessings,

until they lose them.

 

I myself didn’t really appreciate the ability

to stand up, and to walk,

until I suffered a bout of vestibular neuritis

and couldn’t stand or walk unassisted

without falling immediately falling.

 

So, when the Gospel of Christ first went out into the world,

God used miraculous healings

to grab people’s attention.

 

Showing them the power of God,

helped get their attention, so they could listen

to the word of God.

Our Lord Jesus performed miracles of healing

that helped prove who he was.

 

And, when he sent out the Apostles

to preach the Gospel to all nations,

he empowered them to heal the sick.

 

The recipients of miraculous healings

were usually very appreciative,

and so were their relatives, friends & neighbors.

 

But that appreciation often didn’t last.

 

We see that in what happened in Acts Chapter 14

when Paul and Barnabas visited Iconium.

 

This was a city in what is now the nation of Turkey today,

but around 600 years before

Mohammed started the Muslim religion.

 

So, it was a pagan land with Greek and Roman culture

but with a few small scattered Jewish communities.

 

And this is what happened

when Paul and Barnabas arrived in that city

in Acts 14:1.

1 In Iconium, they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and spoke, so that a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed. 2 But the disbelieving Jews stirred up and embittered the souls of the Gentiles against the brothers. 3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

 

These “signs and wonders” would likely have been

miracles of healing:

giving sight to the blind,

enabling the lame to walk,

curing leprosy, and so on.

 

These miracles testified to the word of God’s grace

by backing up the spoken word

with powerful deeds.

 

Many of the city’s inhabitants

were converted to become Christians,

or at least approved of Paul and Barnabas

and the good they were doing.

 

But others refused to believe,

and even made themselves aggressive enemies

of the Gospel message about Jesus.

 

Verse 4 says,

4 But the multitude of the city was divided. Part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 When some of both the Gentiles and the Jews, with their rulers, made a violent attempt to mistreat and stone them, 6 they became aware of it, and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding region. 7 There they preached the Good News.

 

What lack of appreciation!

 

That opposition to the Christians

escalated into violent persecution,

forcing them to flee to other nearby cities.

 

But the violence did NOT force them into silence.

 

They would not be silenced,

but kept on preaching the Good News about Jesus,

everywhere they went.

--------------------------

 

Can you imagine people being so opposed

to the Gospel of Christ

that they would drive out of their city

Christians who were healing people

from terrible diseases?

 

It might seem unbelievable that a city would expel

Christians who were healing the city’s people.

 

That couldn’t happen in an enlightened modern city,

could it?

 

That couldn’t happen in a liberal-minded, modern city

like New York, could it?

 

Well, something very similar DID happen

in New York City, just a few months ago.

 

Christians who were doing a mighty healing work

among the people of New York City

were driven out of the city

by political leaders who hated the Gospel.

 

The Christians doing that healing work

were the doctors and nurses and technicians

of Samaritan’s Purse—

the charitable ministry headed up by

Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham.

 

Billy Graham held his first New York City crusade

back in 1957,

when he packed Madison Square Garden

for 16 weeks in a row.

 

Back then in 1957, Billy Graham preached

to 2-1/2 million people in New York City

 

61,000 of them made decisions for Christ.

 

It was like the work Paul and Barnabas did in Iconium

with half the city supporting their message.

 

And, last year, Billy Graham’s son Franklin Graham

took his Samaritan Purse healing ministry to the city.

 

If you remember what things were like in New York city

early last year,

you’ll recall that the coronavirus pandemic

was devastating the city.

 

Hospitals were filled to overflowing.

 

People were dying of COVID-19 so fast,

that the city brought in refrigerated trailers,

parked in New York City streets

to store the dead bodies that were piling up.

 

To help the city with this crisis,

Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse

set up a mobile field hospital in Central Park.

 

A caravan of huge trucks with police escort

brought the hospital equipment into the city.

 

The Samaritan’s Purse team erected one tent after another,

to create a complex of temporary facilities.

 

It was just as they had done over the years

to help with emergencies in other places

around the world.

 

Christian doctors and nurses and technicians

at that field hospital

worked day and night at keeping people alive.

 

It was a massive effort—a world class hospital

and it helped alleviate the crisis.

 

And it was all done as a free gift—

with no charge to the city.

 

People appeared to be appreciative, at first.

 

But then they turnedjust as the leaders in Iconium

turned against Paul and Barnabas.

 

The New York Post reported,

 

The city’s mayor also turned against

the Christian medical team,

promising to launch an investigation of them.

 

The New York Post reported,

 

So, it was much like what Paul and Barnabas faced

in that ancient city of Iconium.

 

Of course, the city of Iconium

sat in the midst of a pagan land,

whereas New York is an American city

with a long Christian heritage.

 

So, it is even more surprising and disappointing

that Christian medical workers

would be unwelcome

due to their biblical beliefs.

 

It just shows how much this country

is returning to paganism.

-----------------------------------

 

After the Apostles were expelled from Iconium,

Acts 14:6 reported that they

6...fled to the cities of Lycaonia,

Lystra, Derbe, and the

surrounding region.

7 There they preached the Good News.

 

So, Paul and Barnabas did not give way

to discouragement or fear.

 

They did not let the treatment they received in Iconium

stop them from preaching the Good News about Jesus.

 

And, besides their preaching work,

they also continued to be instruments of healing

like Samaritan’s Purse.

 

God did powerful miracles of healing through them.

 

The account continues,

8 At Lystra a certain man sat, impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked. 9 He was listening to Paul speaking, who, fastening eyes on him, and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet!” He leaped up and walked.

 

What an amazing miracle!

 

This man had been born deformed

and had never walked.

 

But now, through the power of God,

he leaped up and walked at Paul’s command.

 

The pagan crowds who saw this

ignored what Paul and Barnabas

had been preaching about Jesus, and instead

the crowds interpreted the healing

according to their own pagan religion.

 

They identified Paul and Barnabas with

the pagan Roman ‘gods’ Jupiter and Mercury.

 

Verse 11 continues,

11 When the multitude saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voice, saying in the language of Lycaonia, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 They called Barnabas “Jupiter,” and Paul “Mercury,” because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Jupiter, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and would have made a sacrifice along with the multitudes.

 

Paul and Barnabas were horrified by this behavior.

 

It was an age-old tradition among the Jews

to demonstrate extreme grief and horror

by tearing and ripping the clothes you have on.

 

And that’s what Paul and Barnabas did,

to show their rejection of the worship

the crowds were offering them.

 

Paul and Barnabas shouted that the miraculous healing

did not mean that they were pagan ‘gods’

but they were empowered by the one true God,

the Creator who made the world.

 

The account continues,

14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their clothes, and sprang into the multitude, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them; 16 who in the generations gone by allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he didn’t leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

 

18 Even saying these things, they hardly stopped the multitudes from making a sacrifice to them.

 

So, Paul and Barnabas turned the occasion

into an opportunity to witness for the true God.

 

Although the Almighty had not stopped the nations

from making idols and worshiping them,

he demonstrated his own Almighty power

by blessing them with fruitful harvests

and all the provisions for life.

 

Although they were mistaken

in the way they tried to show it,

the city’s population honored Paul and Barnabas

for the miraculous healings they performed.

 

But it didn’t last for long,

as can be see by what happened next.

 

Verse 19 says,

19 But some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there, and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul, and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But as the disciples stood around him, he rose up, and entered into the city.

So, the city went from almost worshiping the Apostle

to trying to kill him instead.

 

They stoned Paul to death—or, so they thought—

and dragged his body outside of the city.

 

But he must have just been playing dead,

because he stood up when the disciples surrounded him

so the crowd could not see that he was still alive.

 

New York City displayed similar hostility

to Franklin Graham’s medical team.

 

They couldn’t legally stone them to death,

but they poured out their hatred

against these Christian medical workers.

 

The New York Post reported

that the head of the New York City Council

viciously called for their expulsion from the city.

 

The Washington Examiner reported that

this City Council Speaker attacked the Christians

by saying,

 

But, like Paul and Barnabas,

the Samaritan’s Purse medical team didn’t give up.

After being expelled from New York City,

they went on to set up another

emergency COVID-19 field hospital

in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

And their World Medical Mission continues to heal the sick

at mission hospitals and clinics in Africa, Asia,

Oceania, Latin America, and the Middle East.

 

The Christians of Samaritan’s Purse

imitated the Apostle Paul

by persisting in the work God gave them to do.

 

After Paul was nearly stoned to death,

Acts 14:20 continues to say,

On the next day he went out with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the Good News to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into God’s Kingdom.

 

And that’s the lesson in all of this for us.

 

Paul persisted in the work the Lord had called him to do.

 

He even returned to those unappreciative cities

that had thrown him out,

and strengthened the faith of individuals

in those cities who did believe.

 

He and Barnabas appointed elders in the new churches

that now met in each of those cities.

 

After that, they began their return trip home,

preaching the Gospel as they went.

 

Finally, they ended this missionary tour

by returning to the Antioch church

that had sent them in the first place.

 

And they reported to the Christians there

the good fruitage of their ministry.

 

We, too, can take personally

the exhortation Paul gave to the new believers

in the churches he had planted,

to continue in the faith,

and that through many afflictions

we must enter into God’s Kingdom.

 

Those afflictions might come from

unappreciative people we’ve helped—

like the cities where Paul and Barnabas

performed miraculous healings,

only to have those cities turn on them—

or unappreciative people like those in New York City

where Franklin Graham’s medical ministry

cared for hundreds of hospitalized patients,

only to be tossed out of the city

and condemned.

 

Sinners will continue to behave that way,

right up until the Return of Christ.

 

But we need to imitate Paul and Barnabas,

by continuingin the faith,”

knowingthat through many afflictions

we must enter into God’s Kingdom.”