One of the main themes of the Book of Acts is missions. It is the history of many of the first Christian missionaries. Often when we study Acts we tend to focus on the triumphs, miracles, and on all the signs and wonders, and gloss over the many disappointments and difficulties the apostles had to face while serving in their different mission fields. But we’re not just called to study the “happy” parts of the Bible. Let’s study some examples of disappointment and missions in Acts and see what we can learn.
Example of Disappointment and Missions in Acts #1:
Missionaries: Peter and John
Missionary Field: The rulers, elders, and teachers of the law
Story: Acts 4:5-16
Key verses: Acts 4:8: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit…”
Acts 4:13-14 “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
Disappointing result: Acts 4:17-21: “After further threats they let them go…”
Peter’s, John’s, and the Church’s Response: Acts 4:19-20, 23-31 (Steadfast, prayer, praise)
Example of Disappointment and Missions in Acts #2:
Missionary Field: Synagogue of the Freedmen and the Sanhedrin
Story: Acts 6:8-15
Key verses: Acts 6:8 “Now Stephen, a man of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”
Acts 6:15 “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Most of chapter 7 includes Stephen’s incredibly eloquent and learned sermon in which he talks about the two men most honored among his audience, Abraham and Moses. But then he rebuked his audience, and in doing so made them very angry. Read Acts 7:51-53
Disappointing result: Acts 7:54-59
Stephen’s response: Acts 7:59-60 (Prayer, forgiveness)
Example of Disappointment and Missions in Acts #3
Missionaries: Paul and Barnabas
Mission Field: People of Lystra (Lycaonians; spoke a different language)
Story: Acts 14:1-17
Key verses: Acts 14:8-10 (Paul heals a crippled man)
Read Acts 14:11-13. Because the crowd is originally speaking in the Lycaonian language, which neither Paul nor Barnabas spoke, the apostles don’t immediately understand what is going on. The local cult of the area worshipped Zeus and Hermes together ‘” as have been demonstrated through archaeological evidence. While Zeus was the more powerful of the two gods, because Paul had done the main speaking, the crowd decided he had to be Hermes. It was a common belief in the ancient world that when two gods came down to earth, the lesser of the gods did the talking.
There was an ancient legend in the area that the two gods had actually visited Lystra in the past, but that only an old couple Philemon and Baucis, had recognized them. This story is told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Roman poet, 1st century). In Ovid’s story, Zeus is called by his Latin/Roman name Jupiter, and Hermes is call Mercury. Paul and Barnabas, however, are completely ignorant of this story and are caught unprepared when their healing of the crippled man causes this riot. After all, the people of Lystra don’t want to be caught unprepared again!
Disappointing result: Acts 14:18-19
Paul’s response: Acts 14:20-21 (Steadfast, courage, perseverance)
Example of Disappointment and Missions in Acts # 4
Missionary Field: Epicurean and Stoic philosophers & other Athenian Intellectuals
Story: Acts 17:16-31
Read Acts 17:18. Two of the philosophies common in Athens in Paul’s day were the Epicurean and the Stoic. My commentary pointed out that by Paul’s time, the Epicurean philosophy had degenerated into a more sensual system of thought. At its best, Stoicism had some admirable qualities, but, like Epicureanism, by Paul’s time it had degenerated into a system of pride. babbler. The Greek word meant “seed picker,” a bird picking up seeds here and there. Then it came to refer to the loafer in the marketplace who picked up whatever scraps of learning he could find and paraded them without digesting them himself.
Read Acts 17:19-21. Again my commentary provided some good information: Areopagus. Means “hill of Ares.” In New Testament times the Areopagus retained authority only in the areas of religion and morals and met in the Royal Portico at the northwest corner of the Agora. They considered themselves the custodians of teachings that introduced new religions and foreign gods.
Verse 21 just has to make you laugh ‘” the picture you get is a group of intellectual snobs who spend all their time discussing things and flitting from one idea to another, but never really doing anything of lasting value! The concept of there being an absolute, concrete truth is beyond their comprehension. This verse reminds me of a passage in C.S. Lewis’ book “The Great Divorce”. For those of you not familiar with the story, ghosts from Hell can take a “holiday” into Heaven, and choose to stay if they wish. The book consists primarily of different conversations between these ghosts and the “bright people” of Heaven. C.S. Lewis used this device to zero in on the decisions people make that decide their final destination. If you have access to this book, I recommend the passage that describes a meeting between a “ghost” and a “bright person” in Heaven, both who used to have philosophical discussions on earth (See “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, pg. 38-46).
Read Acts 17:28-29. Lovely commentary! It does my work for me: There are two quotations here: (1) “In him we live and move and have our being,” from the Cretan poet Epimenides (c. 600 B.C.) in his Cretica, and (2) “We are his offspring,” from the Cilician poet Aratus (c. 315-240) in his Phaenomena, as well as from Cleanthes (331-233) in his Hymn to Zeus.
Paul “plundered” the secular sources of culture and wisdom around him and used them to help reach certain people groups. Paul talks about becoming “all things” to reach people, wherever there are, in his famous passage in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Part of this meant being conversant in the literature that the people he was preaching to valued.
Paul was clearly these philosophers intellectual equal, he was passionate about what he believed, and was willing to become “all things” to reach people, but…
Somewhat disappointing result: Acts 17:32-34 (Only a few believed. Witnessing to intellectuals is probably one of the hardest things a missionary can do.) Notice that Paul did not perform any signs or wonders in Athens.
Paul’s response: Acts 18:1-5 (perseverance, steadfast)
What have we learned from what we’ve studied today?
If the apostles were here today, I think they would rewrite the title of my article and change it to: “Bible Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles: Examples of Perseverance and Missions.”
According to the dictionary perseverance means: “Adherence to a course of action, belief, or purpose without giving way; steadfast.”
I believe that is what God is asking all of us to do, in whatever mission field we find ourselves serving in: to persevere, even in the face of disappointment and discouragement. Sometimes we may understand the mission field that we are trying to reach culturally, and sometimes it is going to be foreign and we are not going to understand their responses. We are called to do our best and to trust God to use what we’ve done, without expecting to see results then or even in the future. We are called to persevere in the face of discouragement, to be steadfast.
Women’s Devotional Bible. New International Version
Compton’s Interactive Bible NIV
C.S. Lewis. The Great Divorce