Read or listen to Acts 14:8-20
If we look all the way back to the road to Damascus experience, we find Saul—who is now going by Paul—just one step ahead of the lynch mob or the stoning crew.
He preaches the good news of life in Christ. Many come to believe. Others come to restore the status quo. Paul sneaks out of town before anyone can stone him.
They stoned him and dragged him outside of the city, left for dead.
What had caused such a violent outcome?
Paul and Barnabas had healed a crippled man and the pagan worshippers in Lystra believed that their gods had come in the flesh. Barnabas they figured for Zeus and Paul was tagged as Hermes as Paul did most of the talking. The Greek influence was still prevalent beyond the borders of first century Greece.
Greek culture had permeated the world. When the Romans conquered the known world, they just took much of the Greek culture and the Greek gods and renamed them.
There was a legend in this region that Zeus and Hermes came to earth in human form and sought refuge among many villagers. Time after time they were turned away until at last an elderly couple took them in. These Greek gods turned the old couple’s home into a temple, complete with gold roof and marble columns and they destroyed all the dwellings of those who turned them away.
The people of this area see the miracle and immediately believe that their gods are real and with them. The people start to worship Paul and Barnabas and they decide to make sacrifices to them.
These men of God will have none of this. They tear their clothes and confront the people, saying, “We are here to deliver you from worshiping these worthless gods.”
They have come to tell of the real Emanuel—of the real God living in the flesh. They came to tell about Jesus. But this time he begins with a different audience.
He had not started with the Jews. These are gentiles and they want to declare Paul and Barnabas are gods.
Have you ever spent countless hours in a batting cage or taking live batting practice? You get mentally focused on hitting fastballs, sliders, curves, and change ups. Then you go to play in the game and they put a knuckleballer on the mound. There’s a whole different mindset to hitting a knuckleball.
There’s something about a knuckleball that just throws off any sort of timing you had before you stepped into the batter’s box.
So Paul’s message begins a little differently. There is no reason to bring Abraham or Moses or David into the conversation. Paul has to start at ground zero and tell these people that there is a God—a real God. He is a Creator. He made heaven, earth, and sea. He made everything in them. He has granted free will but has provided a testimony.
He has to do this while these people are trying to make him a god. I’m sure the story of Herod’s rather unsightly death had circulated through much of the known world. Paul has a mission and he doesn’t want to end up like Herod who let the people proclaim him a god.
Paul has good news to deliver and no time to be eaten by worms.
Everything for which these gentiles gave credit to their Greek gods had really come from the one true God.
But even then, these people wanted to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. The priest of the pagan temple shows up with oxen for sacrificing and banners for celebrating. Visualize New York City after winning the Super Bowl. There was hysteria.
We don’t get a report on who came to know the one true God or who came to call Jesus Lord as the Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrive and stir up the crowd, so much so that Paul is stoned within the city.
Thinking he was dead, they dragged him outside the city. It’s an efficient system. Dogs, vultures, rodents, and rot will make pretty quick work of a body. The worms will take care of the rest.
But we are told that the disciples came to where Paul’s body was and gathered around him and found him still to be alive.
John Mark had already gone home. Barnabas was Paul’s only named companion, but we are told disciples gathered around him. That tells us that either some came to seek the one true God in Lystra or Paul had a Christian following when he left Iconium.
In either case, Paul spends the night in Lysra and heads for Derbe the next day.
I sometimes laugh—usually to myself and not out loud—at some of the Facebook posts that I read.
I’m soooooo bored.
There’s nothing to do.
I can’t wait for this day to be over.
Obviously, these folks have not experienced ministry. You bring people to Christ in one moment, get run out of town the next, proclaimed as a god in another location, and left for dead by people who hadn’t known you long enough to really hate you, but that doesn’t stop them from stoning you.
So what do you do?
When you discover you are still alive, you get a good night’s rest and move on to the next stop.
Sometimes, it’s a little disappointing when no one brings in a single name of a child they talked with over the course of a month. But discouragement cannot turn into despair.
We are a people of hope and promise.
We have good news to deliver.
And we haven’t been stoned and left for dead.
So this day, and the days that follow, are days to deliver good news.
And much like Paul and Barnabas, we will talk to people who don’t know much of the story of God’s Chosen People, so we will just start by telling them of a God who loved them so much that he really did come as a man and live, die, and rise again so that we may have life to the full and life eternal.
We tell them of a God who still loves them.
Read Acts 14:8-20 in The Message