14:21 "And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed."
Our God is amazing. There are no words to describe how incredible He is. This evening I will speak to the people who raised me in the faith as well as those who grew up with me in the faith and also the next generation. In simpler terms I'm coming home. Like Paul in Acts 14:21-23 I am retracing my steps. How did God so arrange things that I came to the place where Paul is retracing his steps at the same time I am retracing mine?
I arrived at the camp of my childhood last night and they were excited. They wanted to show me something. We entered the large meeting tent and there on the platform was the pulpit from which I will begin preaching this evening. It is the pulpit from my home church in Waterville where I began preaching as a young teenager. On the wall they are mounting the same prophecy chart that hung on the wall of our little church my whole life and beyond. There are no words for the emotions and memories.
When Paul returned it was not for the places but for the people. He came back to strengthen their souls. The Greek word is psyche. It refers to the very essence of who we are. The English says he "exhorted" them but the literal translation is that he called them to come close to himself. Imagine what he looked like. It hasn't been long since they tried to stone him to death in Lystra. Now he has returned scarred and weary. Not many would return at all but he hasn't come to see the sights or reminisce about the past. He has come on a mission. The first time he came to tell them about Jesus. Now he has returned to strengthen them. Why? Because following Jesus is a struggle, not because of Jesus but because the world is against Him and if you stand with Him you too become a target. Imagine what life became like for these believers in Lystra after Paul escaped to Derbe. The stones got aimed at them.
That's why Paul has returned to strengthen them, to call them close to himself to continue in the faith.
Then he says something profound: "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom". The word 'must' literally means 'inevitable'. It is used here in a brilliant way. It applies twice. First tribulations are inevitable. The path to the kingdom is a blood stained path. There are no short cuts. There is no easy road. What a relevant message to a people suffering under the resistance to the gospel that was so strong it left Paul in a bloody heap outside the city walls.
However that is not the only thing that is inevitable. Entering the kingdom is inevitable. Why? Because they are following Jesus.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross His mockers were many: "He saved others, He can't save Himself!" Yet where is Jesus now? Both His suffering and His triumph were inevitable because He surrendered to the path He was to follow. Any man, woman, or child that chooses to follow God's path will inevitably suffer and overcome and enter the kingdom.
My life has been blessed but there is blood along the path. More trouble lays ahead still. It is inevitable. However so is the destination at the end of the path. For right now I just want to strengthen my fellow travelers. I want to call them close to myself and see my Jesus a little more clearly because He is the destination.