Do you want to live your best life now? If you search within your heart and hear what the Spirit is calling you to give at a minimum donation of twice your weekly rent, then God (who we by perfect human reason and logic can prove exists) will abound in your bank account and toilet paper rolls.
Three separate promises. Three separate absurdities. In a world where Christianity is portrayed as the faith of the privileged, the self-help gurus, or the philosophers, it is easy for the Gospel to become convoluted by the absurdities attached to the name of Christ.
And for a moment, as we attempt to untangle Christianity from so many outrageous claims, we are tempted to forget that the Gospel itself is far more absurd in its power and logic than we can comprehend.
Paul, a radical Christian-killing rabbi turned apostle, understood this better than few others. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 20, Paul writes, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
As if the rhetorical questions were not enough, Paul takes it to a new level during his missionary journeys chronicled in Acts. There are plenty of dumbfounding accounts, but Acts chapter 14 sticks out like a sore thumb.
It begins with Paul and Barnabas, having been driven out of Antioch where they had declared Gentiles (non-Jews) were welcome into the Jewish Christian faith, now in Iconium.
Again, they preach to the Gentiles the news about Jesus. The crowd begins to divide. Tensions rise and the people stir up to mistreat and stone the pair. Paul and Barnabas flee again.
An absurdity exposed
They arrive in Lystra and Derbe. You’d think they would adapt their pattern, but they don’t.
Paul, seeing a man crippled from birth, heals him. The people observe in awe and declare Paul and Barnabas gods, as they prepare to offer sacrifices to the two men.
Paul and Barnabas tear off their clothes and beg the people to hear about Jesus. Yet in verse 18, the author writes, “Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.”
The absurdity is exposed. Twice fleeing cities from people seeking to persecute them. Now being worshipped as gods.
Yet, Jews from Antioch arrive in Iconium and persuade the very same crowds to stone Paul. They follow through and Paul is stoned and dragged out of the city, but, “But when the disciples gathered about him [Paul], he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts chapter 14, verse 20).
Following Derbe and the treatment of Paul & Barnabas in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, the pair return to all three cities to visit the disciple where they were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts chapter 14, verse 22).
After experiencing the lows of hostility and the highs of idol worship, Paul and Barnabas are unphased, seeking instead to strengthening believers in each place they were reviled.
Why? Why embrace and return to places they were not only chased out, but also threatened with stoning? Why return to places they were not only worshipped as gods, but also stoned?
Paul answers this question a plethora of times in his writing, most likely because the church needs the answer again and again. One beautiful answer is found in Ephesians chapter 1, Verses 19-20, where Paul writes,
“and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when he raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places”
This same power, the working of the Holy Spirit, that raised Christ from the dead, and makes our faith possible is the same power that works in each believer. Leading each believer to not only proclaim the Good News that God died in our place, but that He rose again on our behalf and for His glory.
The absurdity of this surpasses the absurdity of the world. The foolishness of the Christian message carries this power. It is no wonder Paul and Barnabas faced such dichotomous reactions, and it is no wonder they persisted.
This is the same Spirit who lives in all of those who believe. If you believe, will you embrace the absurdity of the Gospel?
Blake Gardiner is from Auckland, sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time.