God’s Word for You
Acts 14:21-22 Many hardships
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 6, 2020
The Return to Antioch in Syria
21 They preached the gospel in that city and made many disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22 They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many hardships.”
“That city” is Derbe, a small village that lay some eighty miles east of Iconium. While there, Paul would have been little more than eighty miles from his home in Tarsus. Derbe was, for many years, thought to have been located on the site of a large mound (Gudelisin) southeast of Lystra. But in 1956, an inscription was found in Kirti Hüyük, a site thirty miles further along from Gudelisin, that was a dedication stone “by the council and people of Derbe” (Δερβητῶν ἡ βoυλὴ καὶ ὁ δῆμος). This seems to be positive proof of the location of the city, bolstered by another inscription in the same location from a later date marking the grave of a bishop of Derbe. Today it can be reached easily off of Turkish State highway D330 about a mile north of Sudurag in the middle of wheat, corn, and tobacco fields.
When Paul and Barnabas got to Derbe, they seem to have been untroubled by any jealous Jews. When he listed the Galatian cities where he had been persecuted, it’s significant that Paul omitted Derbe (2 Timothy 3:11). They “made many disciples” there, and then retraced their steps back through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, over two hundred miles on foot and still more than a hundred miles from the port of Perga. They preached all along the way, perhaps avoiding the public squares and synagogues this time, but only visiting the Christian congregations that they had established.
Paul’s encouragement was: “We must enter the kingdom of God through many hardships.” By this, Paul does not mean that a believer must experience such hardships of tribulations in order to enter into God’s kingdom, since Jesus said that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (children)” (Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). Rather, Paul is describing the cross of a believer’s suffering which Jesus prophesied in Matthew 10:38, “anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” This cross has an ultimate goal of our salvation (and then the glory of God), but our salvation is worked in us through the means of grace alone, the gospel in word and sacrament through the auxiliary tools of the ministers of the church and parents (and their representatives) in the home. The cross of the Christian has at least three intermediate goals in us: (1) To keep us believers aware of our sins (Jeremiah 30:11; Nahum 1:3; 1 Peter 4:17) and to keep us from thinking lightly of our sins (Leviticus 26:23-24). Connected to this is (2) which is the crucifixion of our sinful nature (Galatians 5:24) and the increase of good fruits of faith in us, which makes progress in our sanctification (1 Peter 4:1-2). (3) Thirdly, the cross brings testing and proving of faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). James (Ja. 1:12) says: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Our trials and troubles are necessary because we are part of the kingdom of God, but they are not necessary in order to enter into the kingdom. The gospel alone brings us in, but once part of it, troubles will follow because the devil hates the gospel and its work as much as he despises Christ. So it is for us as it was for Job, whose friend said, “Man is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Yet the very burden of these troubles on account of our faith proves that we are already, in this lifetime, members with Jesus in the kingdom of God: “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5). Jesus will carry us through our troubles, he will help us carry our crosses, and he will bring us home in the end to everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith