19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds [in Lystra], they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 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. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Barnabas and Paul fled the big city of Iconium for these smaller towns, but then also left behind Roman soldier police and a more structured government. That gave them different opportunities to evangelize the non-Jewish background people of Lystra and Derbe. The problem was, it also made them vulnerable to some country justice.
The threatening people from Iconium saw this as an opportunity and hyped up some mob violence against Paul.
It’s pitiful that they did this because they were not encouraging the people in Judaism, by telling them the truth about Yahweh. They were stirring the people up in their passion for Zeus and Hermes. These were Gentile towns with no synagogues. There is archeological evidence of a temple to Zeus and monuments of Hermes dedicated to Zeus (these people were serious about their Zeus!) but no Jewish evidence. (It also says they didn’t harm Barnabas. Maybe part of them still thought he just might really be Zeus?)
This is a terrible but frequent example of people not caring about the truth but instead trying to win their argument. It doesn’t always end with somebody getting stoned, but it can come close!
Getting stoned to death didn’t stop Paul. They thought he was dead and left him, but look what he did when the disciples came out. He rose up and went back into the city. Talk about bold! He didn’t go whining about how evil they were, he went back in to tell them their sins were forgiven.
With the troublemakers off his back, he was able to go on to Lystra and preach there, then back again to Derbe. It’s no wonder they were able to make more disciples and train elders — what boldness they had in their lives.
After the message that their sins were forgiven, the next message taught in Paul’s very own flesh and blood was “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” He teaches from the beginning that it isn’t easy, but it’s part of the advancing kingdom.
Do not use ease and comfort as a measure of the kingdom of Heaven. The people that were trying to kill Paul thought they had succeeded. He was that beaten up with stones. And still, he preached the Gospel to them. May we also grow in such conviction, love, and boldness.
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