“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
St. Paul made this statement after being dragged out of the city of Lystra and stoned. He and Barnabas had been preaching the good news there when Paul saw a man who had been crippled from birth. Paul perceived that the man had faith to be healed and asked him to stand up. He did and started walking and jumping around. The people were amazed and wanted to treat Paul and Barnabas as Gods. But then some people came from Antioch and Iconium who were jealous of Paul and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking him dead.
Paul recovered from his stoning and returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples, encouraging them to remain true to the faith, and making the above statement. (Acts 14:8-20)
There was resistance to building the kingdom of God in Paul’s day and there is resistance in our day as well. Christians around the world are encountering ever increasing resistance and persecution in the Middle East, Africa, China, and parts of what was once considered Christendom. In our country, we find increasing hostility to God’s natural law and scripture-based beliefs in traditional marriage, life and sexual morality.
We should not be surprised by these trends for Jesus warned, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” But he also said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 15:20; John 16:33)
This past Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, commemorating God’s anointing of the first apostles and disciples with the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus ascended he had told the apostles not to leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift that God had promised. “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4, 8)
The Holy Spirit took this small group of apostles, who ran in fear at Jesus’ arrest, and turned them into bold spokesmen for Jesus and the kingdom of God Jesus had inaugurated. In just three and a half centuries they overcame one of the most powerful and longest lasting empires the world has ever seen, and brought the kingdom of God to millions of people in most of the known world.
This same Holy Spirit is available to us today. The Holy Spirit has not changed. Perhaps we are different from the first disciples, but the Holy Spirit is not. The same power to build and advance the kingdom of God is available to us just like it was to Paul and the first disciples. Yes, there will likely be hardships as Paul mentions, and perhaps even persecution.
But this is what the love that is central to the kingdom of God is all about – sacrifice, the giving of self, and the laying down of one’s desires and wants for the love of God and others. It may run counter to our nature, but it is a higher calling that God has for each of us — building God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven here and now.
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)