“From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” (Acts 14: 26-28)
There’s a level of excitement here that is boyish. It’s almost naive – the absolute opposite of jaded and cynical. Those last two adjectives mean something like “I’ve seen it all before. Nothing surprises me or shakes me from my equilibrium.” Some people live like that their whole adult lives.
But this group of Jesus-believers was in a different category.
Think about the other side – think about the things that might have made them jaded and cynical. They had been insulted, slandered, gossiped about. They had been put down and put out and beaten within an inch of their lives. Humanly speaking, things had gone horribly wrong. Later, Paul was to write a commentary on his experiences. He wrote this: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
But why? Why, after all that terrible stuff happened, did they stay so upbeat?
I have two answers. One is the story of what was going on inside them. The other is the Big Story of what God was doing with them.
And through them.
And, of course, the two stories are really one. It’s all part of the same thing. What was going on inside them was the story of walking with Jesus, knowing Him, loving Him and letting His words dwell in them richly; it was the story of Pentecost, imbibing His Spirit and speaking and acting in His strength and presence. Oh, the sheer hilarity of seeing someone healed or forgiven, and the whole world tilting on its axis with the joy of it!. Luke 10:17 records the return from another mission trip: “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
The name. “In your name.” That phrase tells of intimacy and relationship.
TemitOpe Ibrahim said: “Intimacy with GOD is most exhilarating, most amazing, most exciting and most rewarding of all.”
And all this was going on inside them. It was entirely, satisfyingly, personal. The apostle John described it as an experience: “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. ” (1 John 1: 1-2).
Us! We have seen and known God ourselves!
But there was something else. It was seeing what God was doing in the world and being part of it. God had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” and they were seeing outsiders flooding into relationship with Israel’s God. It was thrilling and brand new. It was something astonishing and it was happening in front of them. Paul understood it through the prophet Habakkuk 1:5: “I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.” They could barely believe it themselves and they couldn’t contain the excitement of seeing God in action.
Do you recall that moment when Elizabeth met Mary? These two pregnant women who had experienced God in powerful action in the most intimate, personal way, meet, and, as Luke records: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1: 41) The door of faith had been opened, you see. Both Elizabeth and Mary had experienced God just like John did, or the young believers in the passage above. And, they had also experienced that sense that this completely personal experience was part of God’s moving in the world in redemptive power.
It was like that Narnia moment, hearing the words: “Aslan is on the move!”
And the baby kicked ! Israelmore Ayivor said, “When you are happy for other people’s dreams, your dreams start jumping up with joy. Elizabeth was happy with Mary and her dream baby was jumping in her womb crazily for joy!”
When that “door of faith” opens, then you are invited into a larger place. It’s what a friend of mine calls “the possibility arena.” God is moving -and anything is possible! Paul referred to the “door of faith” in a wonderful passage in Romans 5:2 to which I constantly return: “We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. ”
The door has been opened and we have gained access, and the baby of promise is kicking within us in sheer pleasure at what God is about to do. It’s all about us and it’s all about Him simultaneously . As John Piper put it, memorably: “God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him.”